Monday, April 04, 2016

Housing Authority's Allegedly Improper Termination Of 75-Year Old Tenant's Section 8 Rent Subsidy Leads To Lawsuit Seeking Reinstatement Of Benefit; Dispute Centers Around Alleged Violation Of Renter's Due Process Rights

In Victoria, Texas, the Victoria Advocate reports:
  • A 75-year-old retired school bus driver will ask a judge this week to compel the Victoria Housing Authority to resume providing her with rental assistance.

    Dorothy Cunningham, a Section 8 program participant since 1999, stopped receiving her $612 subsidy in August after police arrested her daughter, Lucy Arlene Lescuer Cunningham, on suspicion of possessing cocaine.

    The District Attorney's Office declined to charge Lucy with a crime, but housing authority officials said that is of little consequence.

    Lucy listed her mother's address on her Texas driver's license, which was used when she was booked into the Victoria County Jail and later bonded out.

    Because of that, the housing authority thinks Lucy lives with Cunningham. They said that turning a blind eye on a misbehaving, unauthorized occupant and the possibility of unreported income is unfair to those who must wait more than a year to receive rental assistance.

    Cunningham has seven children, 17 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren, but swears the only person living with her is 18-year-old granddaughter, K'Liyah Cunningham, a senior at Victoria West High School.
    "This is not about proving Mrs. Cunningham's daughter didn't live with her. If we have to, we will," said Christina Trejo, a Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney.(1) "What this lawsuit is about is how the housing authority did not follow its rules and doing so violated her due process rights."

    Trejo thought the housing authority played "hide the ball" when Cunningham came to its office Aug. 18 to contest its decision to end her rental assistance.

    Cunningham's due process rights were violated because she was not told beforehand that the housing authority's proof of an unauthorized occupant was the address listed on her daughter's driver's license, Trejo said.

    "She went there unprepared," Trejo said, and the only person who presented evidence was Louis Boldt, then the director of the Section 8 Housing Program.

    "It was the equivalent of a prosecutor calling himself to testify and just saying, 'This person did it. I know because I read it,'" Trejo said. "Mrs. Cunningham has worked hard her whole life. She deserves this help. She put into our state and our country, and so this is a property right that she has. She did nothing to jeopardize it, and it should not be taken away from her."
    In court documents, the housing authority has also filed a counter-claim against Cunningham. It claims it overpaid Cunningham $14,200 because of her unauthorized occupant.

    Since August, Cunningham has been able to pay her rent both because her landlord lowered it and because of the donations of others. But she said she cannot cobble together the amount forever.
For the story, see Victoria woman sues housing authority to reinstate assistance.

For a story update, see Woman wins lawsuit against Victoria housing authority (A judge reinstated an elderly Victoria woman's rental subsidy after a lengthy and contentious hearing was limited to whether the woman's due process rights were violated. He also ordered the housing authority to pay her Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney $7,750 for the work she put into the case.).

For the lawsuit, see Cunningham v. Housing Authority of the City of Victoria.

For other posts on various housing authorities accused of violating low-income tenants' due process rights while improperly screwing around w/ their Section 8 housing subsidies, see:
(1) Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income residents in sixty-eight counties of Southwest Texas, and represents migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout the state of Texas and six southern states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

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