* Whistleblower sued city of 4 million
* Lawsuit says federal funds not used for accessible housing
* Los Angeles faults U.S. intervention as "abuse of power"
(Adds comment from whistleblower's lawyer)
By Jonathan Stempel
June 7 The United States has joined a lawsuit
accusing Los Angeles of failing to develop affordable housing
for disabled people, despite accepting millions of dollars of
federal funds for that purpose, the Department of Justice said
The decision to intervene adds legal firepower to a
whistleblower case brought by Los Angeles wheelchair user Mei
Ling, and signals the government's belief it has a greater
chance of success than typical of False Claims Act lawsuits.
It also follows Los Angeles' agreement last August to settle
litigation by several advocacy groups by spending at least $200
million over a decade to provide 4,000 affordable apartments for
people with disabilities.
A year earlier, the second most populous U.S. city committed
to spending $1.3 billion over 30 years to fix broken sidewalks
that critics called nightmares for wheelchair users.
A spokesman for Democratic City Attorney Mike Feuer, Rob
Wilcox, in a statement said Los Angeles would "vigorously fight"
the lawsuit, which threatens to "divert tens of millions more
from L.A. taxpayers to the federal treasury - without housing a
single person. This abuse of power cannot stand."
The lawsuit accused Los Angeles of falsely certifying its
compliance with the Fair Housing Act and other laws protecting
the disabled, such as by setting aside 7 percent of multifamily
units for people with impaired mobility, sight or hearing.
Such compliance was a condition for the city of 4 million to
receive U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds.
But the lawsuit said none of the HUD-funded multifamily
housing in Los Angeles supported by CRA/LA, a city agency once
called the Community Redevelopment Agency, had enough accessible
"Denying people with disabilities equal access to public
housing deprives one of the most disadvantaged groups in society
of fair housing opportunities," said Acting Assistant Attorney
General Chad Readler of the Justice Department's civil division.
The CRA/LA did not respond to requests for comment.
Ling's lawyer, Scott Moore, said his client once spent three
years in a homeless shelter because she could not find
accessible housing, and even now cannot use her bathtub
"This is monumental for my client," Moore said in an
interview. "If cities think they can take the money, and only
then try to make amends, then the False Claims Act has no
False Claims Act lawsuits let private whistleblowers sue on
the government's behalf, and share in recoveries.
The nonprofit Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley
also sued on Ling's behalf.
The case is U.S. ex rel Ling et al v City of Los Angeles et
al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David
Gregorio, Bernard Orr and Jonathan Oatis)