Susana Ramis needs constant care. The 57-year-old has for decades suffered from debilitating anxiety, depression and panic attacks that have kept her from engaging with the outside world and made it impossible to perform routine tasks.
Susana’s disabilities have long limited her ability to work, and she has relied on the federal Section 8 Voucher rent subsidy program for 20 years to avoid homelessness. During that time, her son Noel has helped take care of her, monitoring her treatment and medication, providing support during panic attacks, and performing the countless daily tasks required to keep her healthy.
Noel is now in his 30s and pursuing a Master’s degree. But for being his mother’s caregiver, he would have moved out and lived on his own years ago. When he graduates, the job he would get would almost certainly push Susana over the income limit for Section 8, meaning she would lose her rent subsidy unless he moved out.
Susana’s medical providers have made it clear she cannot live on her own, and have identified Noel as the only logical candidate to be her live-in aide. So Susana requested to have Noel approved as her live-in aide, as allowed by federal law.
But the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), citing an arbitrary policy prohibiting current household members from becoming live-in aides, repeatedly denied her request without considering her individual circumstances.
“Despite Susana’s healthcare providers identifying her son as the best choice for a live-in aide, the housing authority effectively barred him from that role,” said NLSLA attorney Ana Zuniga. “As these cases started to mount, we realized the housing authority was making healthcare decisions for their participants, without looking at the circumstances of each case. They were simply rejecting every single request.”
After seeing several other tenants in similar situations, NLSLA felt it had no choice but to sue the agency to force it to make reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis. Now, two years after the lawsuit was filed, a judge has ordered the housing authority to do just that.
“Each reasonable accommodation request—based on a Section 8 recipient’s disability—must be considered on its merits based on the unique circumstances,” ruled Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff.
He found HACLA’s policy of automatically denying these requests violated regulations set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency administering the Section 8 Voucher Program.
“HACLA’s wholesale exclusion…without consideration of any specific circumstances,” he ruled, is inconsistent with HUD regulations. The ruling could impact thousands of Section 8 households in Los Angeles.
“Being a low-income individual with disabilities who needs housing assistance shouldn’t prevent you from having the caregiver of your choice,” said NLSLA attorney Sahar Durali. “People using Section 8 vouchers should have the right to make decisions about their own care.”