The federal government is taking over a lawsuit that alleges Los Angeles received hundreds of millions of dollars to develop housing accessible to the disabled, failed to do so and lied about it to keep the money rolling in, it was announced Wednesday.
The suit alleges that the city and its redevelopment agency violated the Fair Housing Act and other federal laws.
According to the suit, the city received $933 million in federal funds over six years to build public housing, with 5 percent of the units to be accessible to people with impaired mobility and another 2 percent accessible to people with sight or hearing problems.
The city had to certify it was meeting those obligations in order to continue receiving housing grants and was supposed to monitor public projects to make sure the developers weren't excluding the disabled.
It did neither, according to the suit.
"While people with disabilities struggled to find accessible housing, the city and its agents denied them equal access to housing while falsely certifying the availability of such housing to keep the dollars flowing," acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown said in a statement.
Ron Wilcox, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, called the suit an abuse of power that "seeks to divert tens of millions more from L.A. taxpayers to the federal treasury — without housing a single person."
"We will vigorously fight this lawsuit, which would deprive the city of crucial funds needed to address our housing crisis," he said in a statement.
The lawsuit was filed six years ago by Mei Ling, a Los Angeles resident who uses a wheelchair, and the nonprofit Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley.
"I have people who have crawled down the stairs on their bellies in order to get out of their apartments because they didn't have elevators," said Sharon Kinlaw, the council's executive director.
Ling, 63, said she spent three years in a homeless shelter and currently lives in housing that isn't designed to be accessible for the disabled.
"I can't even have a simple shower, because that's not how my unit is set up," she said at a news conference.
The suit was filed under a whistleblower law that allows private parties to sue on behalf of the United States and receive a share of any money recovered.
Last year the city settled another lawsuit over disability access. It agreed to spend more than $200 million over a decade to ensure that 4,000 public housing units were accessible to the disabled.
The city didn't acknowledge any wrongdoing in settling that suit.