Public interest legal services lost a great warrior, leader, and mentor this week. Stephen Ronfeldt, a co-founder of PILP, Director of Litigation of the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County, member of the inaugural class of the Reginald Heber Smith fellows and the 2018 recipient of the Loren Miller Legal Services Award, passed away peacefully on December 1 at home with his loving family around him.
Community Group Sues City of Los Angeles for Using Illegal Procedure to Block Supportive and Affordable Housing Projects for Homeless
Los Angeles Times
To keep state funding, L.A. eliminates “veto” provision
LOS ANGELES, July 26, 2018 — Public Counsel, Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld LLP, and the Public Interest Law Project announced today that they have filed suit on behalf of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action) against the City of Los Angeles over an illegal city procedure deceptively labeled the Letter of Acknowledgment (LOA), which gives individual City Councilmembers the power to decide if, whether and where supportive and affordable housing projects are built in the City. LOAs currently allow individual Councilmembers to secretly block, alter or delay affordable and supportive housing projects for any reason or no reason at all, violating multiple provisions of state law. Without obtaining a LOA from a Councilmember, developers cannot be eligible for supportive and affordable housing funding from the City. The Complaint alleges that LOAs are an illegal barrier that stand in the way of the housing solutions that would solve the City’s continuing problems of homelessness and segregation — despite the voters’ clear intent to the contrary.
The overwhelming success of Proposition HHH in 2016 authorized $1.2 billion to fund the construction of 10,000 units of supportive and affordable housing throughout LA. However, almost two years after its historic passage there are still districts in LA where there are no Proposition HHH housing units. “This is a crisis of conscience. Voters have said loud and clear that the City must do everything in its power to fund supportive and affordable housing and help get our neighbors off the street,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Project. “Yet the City continues to maintain a policy that thwarts the will of the people by allowing Councilmembers to covertly veto the building of supportive and affordable housing in their districts, in order to placate NIMBYs and interest groups who want to keep homeless residents and low-income people out of their neighborhoods.”
“No other type of development in the City is subject to the same arbitrary approval by an individual Councilmember, which is a violation of state law”
– Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project
“The LOA policy is a clear violation of California state laws, including laws prohibiting discrimination in housing based on race or disability and laws protecting supportive and affordable housing,” said Jeffrey Bornstein, a Partner at Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld LLP. “No other type of development in the City is subject to the same arbitrary approval by an individual Councilmember, which is a violation of state law,” said Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project. “This is a known impediment to fair housing that has been nationally criticized for years, yet the City keeps readopting it year after year,” said Shashi Hanuman, Directing Attorney of Public Counsel’s Community Development Project.
In addition to the lack of accountability, the adverse effects of the LOA policy are felt most acutely by people of color and people with disabilities, who are disproportionately homeless. The most recent homeless count in LA showed that on any given night, over 31,000 individuals, including children, seniors, veterans, individuals with mental and physical disabilities, and survivors of domestic violence, have no choice but to live in sidewalk encampments and sleep in tents or sleeping bags. “Every day that our elected officials delay or outright reject supportive and affordable housing projects means another night on the streets for residents in desperate need of a place to call home,” said Gloria Cortez, of ACCE, the plaintiff in the case. “It’s time for the City to remove this unnecessary barrier to building the housing we need to solve our homelessness crisis and put roofs over our fellow Angelenos’ heads.”
INGLEWOOD, CA, June 19, 2018 – Uplift Inglewood Coalition, an affiliation of community empowerment organizations, today filed a lawsuit against the City of Inglewood, charging that the City violated state housing and civil rights laws by entering into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with the L.A. Clippers for use of public land to build a NBA basketball arena. The suit seeks to vindicate the rights of Inglewood residents during a time of rapid community change and skyrocketing housing costs that have already displaced many long-term residents.
“At a time when low-income Inglewood residents are facing a devastating and growing housing crisis, we allege that the City of Inglewood has failed to comply with multiple state laws that are intended to produce much-needed affordable housing,” said Antonio Hicks, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel. “As documented in this lawsuit, by entering into an ENA with the Clippers, the City violated California’s Surplus Land Act, which mandates that surplus public land is first offered for sale or lease for the purpose of affordable housing.”
California’s Surplus Land Act is a longstanding state law designed to promote the development of affordable housing, and requires that government agencies prioritize the use of publicly owned land for affordable housing – or for parks and recreational purposes – before the land is offered to developers for other purposes. The suit further alleges that the City’s failure to comply with the Surplus Land Act results in civil rights violations – by discriminating against the development of housing intended for low-income households, and disproportionally against members of certain racial and ethnic groups and individuals with disabilities.
The City of Inglewood and Clippers owner, Steve Ballmer, recently held a press conference to announce proposed state legislation to provide shortcuts for the stadium project by exempting it from certain environmental challenges. At the press conference, Ballmer made the following remarks: “I want to build a house in Inglewood … We’d like to have our own house, right here, on this site.”
“The City of Inglewood is choosing to use publicly owned land to help a billionaire build a home for his sports team, at a time when longtime residents are struggling to stay in their own homes,” said Woodrow Curry, III, a member of the Uplift Inglewood Coalition. “It’s morally bankrupt and a mismanagement of our public resources. We’re calling on the city’s leadership to do the right thing and to prioritize the creation of affordable homes before arenas.”
Inglewood’s own analysis indicates that over eighty (80) percent of Inglewood residents qualify for some sort of subsidized housing. And the City’s data shows that rents in the City of Inglewood have risen by almost twenty-five (25) percent in the last five years alone, and almost fifty (50) percent of Inglewood residents are low-income and severely rent-burdened, which means they are paying more than fifty (50) percent of their income towards housing.
Many Inglewood residents point to the construction of a $4 billion NFL stadium – slated as the future home of the L.A. Rams and L.A. Chargers – as a catalyst for driving up housing costs and turning Inglewood into a hot area for property speculation. Stories abound of landlords that are looking to cash-in, and with no rent-control protections in place, long-time residents of Inglewood claim they are being driven out of their homes.
“I’m an Inglewood renter, and now I’m on the verge of losing my home,” said Sara Santos, a resident who supports the lawsuit. “My landlord just raised my rent by $300, and it breaks my heart that I may have to leave my community. For so many years, Inglewood was an affordable place to call home. But now it seems like city leaders have been seduced by outside billionaires, and have forgotten about the everyday folks who are the true champions of Inglewood.”
The suit also alleges violation of additional California law that requires cities to take steps to plan and zone for adequate affordable housing and shelter for homeless residents – as well as the charges that Inglewood has failed to develop 112 affordable housing replacement units it was obligated to produce several years ago.
“When cities ignore laws like the Surplus Land Act, it creates a ripple effect throughout the region, resulting in less affordable housing units and ultimately more homelessness,” said Tom Casparian, an attorney with Cozen O’Connor. “All this lawsuit seeks to do is get the City of Inglewood to follow the law.”
Public Counsel, the Public Interest Law Project (PILP), and the law firm of Cozen O’Connor filed an action in Los Angeles Superior Court today asking the Court to order Inglewood to follow the requirements of the Surplus Land Act and meet its obligations to adequately plan and zone for affordable housing and shelter in the city – as required of every city in the State.
In 2011, Shasta County was several years late adopting its required housing element revision. Because of its tardy timeline, the County committed itself to rezoning sites to accommodate 800 units of higher density housing that could meet the unincorporated County’s housing need for lower income households. But by the next state required revision in 2014, the County had not completed the rezonings and again, did not adopt a timely update to the Housing Element of its General Plan.
Because of this ongoing failure to plan for the housing needs of lower income families and individuals, Tracy Bowman and Micheal Williamson, who have both struggled to find and maintain affordable housing in Shasta County, with the help of Legal Services of Northern California and PILP, filed a lawsuit to challenge the County’s lack of an adequate housing element and compel the rezoning to accommodate the 800 affordable units from the last planning period and over 300 units needed during the current planning period. In addition to the required rezonings, the County must also establish a zone, or zones, where emergency shelters can be built without a Conditional Use Permit. Despite the 10 year old legal requirement to do so, the County still does not allow the construction of emergency shelters anywhere in the County without discretionary review.
Five years ago, the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) began a special project to increase access to General Assistance (GA) benefits in rural areas. This program, also sometimes called General Relief (GR), provides critical aid to California’s lowest income individuals.
In rural counties throughout California, eligible people cannot easily access last resort GA benefits. Many counties with high numbers of people living in poverty have fewer than 40 people receiving GA. Some have zero, or fewer than 10. Counties impose unlawful and often unwritten eligibility requirements and adopt improperly low grant levels. Through its Rural General Assistance Project (Rural GAP), PILP seeks to increase access to these critical benefits and assist local advocates in enforcing counties’ legal duty to provide GA to all needy residents.
In the past four years, PILP’s General Assistance advocacy has brought approximately $52,413,392 in additional benefits to thousands of recipients throughout the State. We could not have done it without the support and hard work of our many legal services partners.
Here are a few Rural GAP highlights:
- GA Summit: On September 22, 2014, PILP, the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations (CCWRO), California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), and Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) hosted a statewide advocate summit to strategize about how to increase GA access in rural areas. 17 organizations sent advocates to the summit.
- The project was featured by the Shriver Center in May 2015.
- PILP and WCLP worked to eliminate the $40 medical deduction statewide, after most recipients became eligible for Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act, eliminating this expense for thousands of people living in poverty.
- PILP and CRLA achieved systemic reform in San Benito, Monterey, and Yuba counties
- Technical Assistance: PILP has provided technical assistance to advocates in 46 counties
The Work Continues:
Many counties are still not serving their neediest residents, and we must continue to work to bring them into compliance with the law and improve their policies. Some counties improperly withhold housing aid, others do not provide the required statutory minimum grant. Please let PILP know how we can better provide support to you, either through training, technical assistance, or collaboration to achieve systemic reform.
PILP is a statewide support center that provides crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California. Our work brings affordable housing to lower income families and homeless people, provides access to services and public benefits for lower income persons and persons with disabilities, and protects neglected and abused children and persons displaced by major disasters and government action.
Monterey, CA – The Monterey County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution approving new aid payment standards for their General Assistance (GA) Program. The new aid payment standards are the result of a lawsuit filed in Superior Court on behalf of a low-income resident represented by California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and PILP. The County also adopted a new appeal process that ensures that applicants and recipients can appeal a negative County decision.
General Assistance (GA) is a program of last resort mandated by state law and administered by counties. It requires counties to provide approximately $340 dollars per month to severely impoverished, lawful residents with no other options. GA recipients are often homeless, unemployed, or unemployable. Many recipients have disabilities, are veterans, and a significant number are survivors of domestic violence. GA allows these individuals to find modest shelter, like a shared room, and to acquire other essentials such as hygiene products and transportation.
Monterey County’s GA program failed to issue adequate grants, making it even harder for many vulnerable recipients to overcome homelessness. In particular, the County’s maximum GA grant was almost $40 dollars lower than the amount required by the state. Recipients were also being denied the housing portion of their grant, leaving them to subsist on around $133 a month or around $4.43 per day. Recipients also reported being denied a big portion of aid, through no fault of their own, for reasons such as a landlord not returning housing cost verifications. Lastly, recipients were deprived of due process rights when they were given notices with little explanation as to why they were being denied aid and what they could do about it.
“This settlement provides opportunity for indigent and homeless people to live more decently and could possibly change their life. The increase can mean new clothes, a night or two of housing, and perhaps a chance to move from the streets to a shared living situation. For others, the increase means they will have money for transportation to seek housing or work. We’re hopeful this money will make positive difference in many peoples’ lives.” stated Phyllis Katz, Directing Attorney, CRLA Salinas.
“We appreciate the openness of County employees and their willingness to enact the necessary changes. The County’s resolution addresses our concerns, and brings the County’s GA program within the State’s legal requirements,” said Lauren Hansen, PILP.
Mountain View, CA – May 18, 2017 – The Public Interest Law Project along with Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Stanford Community Law Clinic, and Fenwick & West (Counsel team) secured an important victory for renter protection and affordable housing and obtained a complete victory in a lawsuit from the California Apartment Association (CAA) and a number of institutional landlords that challenged Measure V, the city’s new rent stabilization and just cause eviction measure.
Shortly after voters passed Measure V in November 2016, CAA sued to block the law from taking effect. The Counsel team stepped in to represent a group of Mountain View voters, tenants, and organizations.
“As a member of the Mountain View community, [we believe] it is important to protect the city where we work—and where many of our employees and clients live—from being subjected to unreasonable rent increases and unjust evictions,” said Patrick Premo, litigation partner and chair of Fenwick’s Pro Bono Program. “We were honored to help secure this victory, an important step toward ensuring all have access to affordable housing.”
“This is a complete victory for the City of Mountain View and a critical win for Mountain View residents, including the most marginalized in our community,” said Nadia Aziz, Senior Attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
“Courts long ago held rent stabilization to be constitutional, and apartment owners have learned that the court’s will not bend the law to accommodate their desire to exploit an out-of-control housing market to reap unconscionable rents,” added Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project.
The Counsel team opposed CAA and the institutional landlord-intervenors’ motion for preliminary injunction. Together, the CAA and the landlord-intervenors had raised well over fifty challenges to Measure V, including many claims under the U.S. and California Constitutions.
The Counsel team argued against these claims, highlighting that rent control had been upheld by both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts. They also stressed the potential harm to Mountain View residents should the measure be enjoined pending a resolution on the merits. On April 5, 2017, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Elfving denied the preliminary injunction, preserving Mountain View’s new rent control laws. On May 5, 2017, the CAA dropped the lawsuit (and a similar challenge to rent control in the City of Richmond), informing members to comply with Measure V, and the landlord-intervenors followed in also dismissing their complaint. The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is monitoring ongoing compliance with Measure V, and is responding to questions and complaints from tenants in Mountain View.
Learn More Here: Fenwick & West
Los Angeles, CA – May 17, 2017 – A developer may not convert a Costa Mesa residential motel to a luxury apartment complex by circumventing planning and zoning requirements for affordable housing, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last week in The Kennedy Commission, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, et al.
“This decision is helping us to take another step toward holding city’s like Costa Mesa responsible for creating housing opportunities for everyone. We have much more to do on behalf of Orange County residents like Timothy Dadey, but this decision will help the Kennedy Commission to continue to create affordable housing solutions in a County that is facing an affordable housing crisis,” said Cesar Covarrubias, Executive Director of the Kennedy Commission, an Orange County housing advocacy organization serving as organizational petitioner in the case.
Judge Mary H. Strobel invalidated development approvals for conversion of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn because the City allowed the proposed project to be built at 54 units per acre, well above the maximum 40 units per acre she said was permitted by local planning and zoning laws. The court ruled that under the state’s Density Bonus Law, cities may permit an increase in density only if the developer agrees to build some units affordable to poor people. That did not happen in this case, said Judge Strobel, who also held that the development approvals violated the City’s General Plan for land use.
“This sends a strong message to other cities and developers that they may not ignore important affordable housing laws to displace low income households in pursuit of redevelopment and luxury housing,” stated Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project (PILP).
“The state law gives developers an incentive to build affordable housing,” said Navneet Grewal, an attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who represents the Kennedy Commission and four former tenants of the Motor Inn. “What the City and the developer improperly tried to do here was exactly the opposite – build luxury housing at the expense of low income tenants.”
The lawsuit also contends that under state law displacement of the long-term tenants requires the City to prepare a relocation assistance plan, which would include reimbursement for moving and related expenses. “For many years, the City has acted on a plan to demolish the Motor Inn and evict its long-term residents,” said Julian Burns from Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, another attorney for the petitioners. “The City may not do that without giving the assistance the law requires.”
Judge Strobel agreed that it was “undisputed that persons who were long-time residents of the Motor Inn have been required to vacate the premises.” But the court stated it was unnecessary to decide the relocation issues, transferring the matter to another judge for trial
In addition to PILP, the petitioners are represented by the Public Law Center (PLC) in Santa Ana, Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C., the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, and Western Center on Law and Poverty (Western Center) in Los Angeles. PLC Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention Unit staff attorney Richard Walker played a significant part in the litigation team.
About our co-counsel:
Public Law Center, Orange County’s pro bono law firm, is committed to providing access to justice for low-income and vulnerable residents through counseling, individual representation, community education, strategic litigation and advocacy to challenge societal injustices.
Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C. is a boutique litigation firm, whose trial lawyers defend national and multinational corporations, government agencies, closely held companies, partnerships, and individuals.
Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services of southeast Los Angeles County provides civil legal services to seniors and low-income individuals and promotes equal access to the justice system.
Western Center on Law and Poverty, an independent nonprofit law firm originally founded as a joint legal clinic of the law schools of USC, UCLA, and Loyola, brings about system-wide change on behalf of low-income individuals and families through impact litigation, advocacy, negotiations, and legal aid support.