Berkeley Housing Authority allegedly breaks housing law, faces 2 lawsuits

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Two separate lawsuits were filed against Berkeley Housing Authority, or BHA, on Oct. 30 for alleged housing law violations.

The plaintiff in the first lawsuit is represented by East Bay Community Law Center, while the plaintiff in the second suit, Lisa Rock, is represented by Bay Area Legal Aid. Both plaintiffs are participants in the Section 8 housing program — a federal subsidized rent program that provides monthly housing subsidies to lower-income families in a voucher — and alleged in their suits that BHA deprived them of their due process rights.

Although the first plaintiff’s name is included in the complaint, they requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from BHA.

“By filing this writ, the family is appealing a decision from the Berkeley Housing Authority in accordance with their rights under federal regulations,” said Meghan Gordon, the plaintiff’s attorney. “The family wishes to remain anonymous in this piece as they are fearful that the Berkeley Housing Authority will retaliate against them for publicizing this matter and further jeopardize their housing.”

BHA Executive Director William Wilkins, who is listed in both complaints, declined to comment on the suits because BHA had not yet discussed them with its legal counsel.

According to the first complaint, BHA permitted the plaintiff’s landlord to increase the rent in December 2016. The subsequent month, BHA sent the plaintiff a notice of that their rent portion would increase from $480 to $1,035, effective March 1.

The plaintiff, who at the time had a fixed income of $1,033 a month, requested an informal hearing Jan. 26 because they wouldn’t be able to pay the increased rent. The complaint adds that the plaintiff would be forced to move from their home with the new rent portion, which they can’t do because they have a disability that limits their mobility.

The complaint alleged, however, that BHA did not respond to the hearing request.

The complaint alleges that BHA issued a new notice Feb. 1 indicating that the increased rent portion would be reduced to $795. The plaintiff, however, would still not be able to pay this amount, the complaint said.

In the complaint, the plaintiff requested that BHA grant her accommodation request and conduct all requests according to federal regulations and BHA’s administrative plan.

Jesús Muñoz, the second plaintiff’s attorney from Bay Area Legal Aid, declined to comment on the second lawsuit.

Rock, according to the second complaint, is a disabled low-income individual who has participated in BHA’s Section 8 program for more than a year. She lived at 1406 Peralta Ave. when her housing assistance was terminated, according to the second complaint.

As part of her participation in the Section 8 program, Rock was required to complete a regular verification of income, according to the second complaint. The second complaint alleges that April 20, BHA issued a notice that terminated Rock’s Section 8 assistance, based on the allegation that she failed to report her family income for 10 months.

“The BHA has failed to satisfy its burden of proof as required by law before terminating (Rock’s) voucher,” the second complaint alleged.

Rock, according to the second complaint, has extreme difficulty with time management because she has ADHD. She alleged in the complaint that BHA violated fair housing mandates related to disability and reasonable accommodation.

According to the second complaint, Rock requests that BHA engage in a “particularized, fact specific legal analysis” when evaluating accommodation requests in conjunction with voucher terminations, demonstrate the basis for any denial of accommodation requests and adopt a policy that actively considers the disability circumstances of participants.

“It was as a result of this condition that I did not fully understand my obligations to report changes in my income,” Rock said in her complaint.

 

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.

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