When the city’s redevelopment agency backed the NoHo 14 project in North Hollywood in 2004, officials touted it as ideal for people who rely on mass transit because it’s so close to the Metro Red Line station.
But one disabled prospective tenant says she wasn’t welcome at the building.
Mei Ling, a 57-year wheelchair-bound North Hollywood resident, is suing the Community Redevelopment Agency, saying she faced discrimination at NoHo 14 and the Lofts at NoHo Commons.
The suit alleges that she was denied the right to an affordable, wheelchair-accessible unit in the neighborhood at both CRA-backed projects.
“This is a failure to provide accessible units,” said Ling’s attorney, Michael Allen. “You might as well put a sign on the buildings: `Handicapped people shouldn’t apply.”‘
The lawsuit is the first of its kind, say legal and housing experts, because it holds the Community Redevelopment Agency responsible for monitoring the actions of the numerous developers and builders with which the agency partners.
In addition to the CRA, the lawsuit names a half-dozen developers.
The CRA declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Kennedy Wilson, a Los Angeles-area developer and one of the owners of NoHo 14, didn’t respond to a phone call. Numerous other developers named in the suit also didn’t reply to a request for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Ling, who suffers from a degenerative spinal disease and is confined to a wheelchair, has spent the last five years applying for affordable housing in North Hollywood.Currently, she lives in a single unit in North Hollywood that lacks proper bathroom facilities, forcing her to venture out to the gym to bathe.
Ling applied for units at the Lofts at NoHo Commons and NoHo 14, both of which set aside a small number of units for affordable housing. But the lawsuit said she encountered long wait lists, a practice of intimidation, and indifference by building owners, managers and CRA staff.
In one instance, a building manager called the police on her. In another, she was told there were no affordable units available, only to discover that some did exist in the building.
While legal experts argue it may be difficult to prove CRA’s culpability in Ling’s case, housing advocates said they aren’t surprised by her lawsuit.
Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network represented disabled tenants in a 2007 fight against the CRA over living conditions at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown.
The settlement with the city resulted in a task force that focuses on disability issues in CRA-backed projects.
“The CRA has almost no monitoring or enforcement,” said Dennison. “They have no capacity to enforce their own contracts.”
Meanwhile, the lawsuit comes amid a federal investigation related to disabled housing. Last week, the U.S. attorney notified the City Attorney’s Office and the CRA that it had launched an inquiry to explore whether the agency had violated the rights of the disabled in the course of building projects.
The investigation was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
It is not clear if Ling’s case and the federal investigation are related. Allen said he didn’t know if Ling had been interviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.