Rivers v. Housing Authority of the County of Contra Costa

The Youth Law Center (YLC) and the Contra Costa County office of Bay Area Legal Aid (Bay Legal) successfully completed a unique collaborative effort to restore a disabled tenant’s Section 8 housing voucher through litigation in federal court challenging the housing authority’s improper use of confidential juvenile court record information in the termination decision. The Housing Authority of Contra Costa County (HACCC) terminated the housing assistance of a disabled couple after the arrest of the mother’s adult son for a violent crime in a neighboring city. The administrative hearing officer upheld the housing authority’s termination of the voucher based not only on the son’s arrest but based on the tenant’s failure to disclose at recertification alleged ‘criminal activity’ of the son when he was a juvenile. The day before the administrative hearing, HACCC received a misleading letter from a county law enforcement official alleging that the son had committed two crimes as a juvenile when in fact the son had been charged with two offenses that were dismissed by the juvenile court. The hearing officer refused to consider any mitigating factors (the couple’s disabilities, and lack of involvement in the charged crime, location of the charged crime and the fact that the son would never be returning to live with his mother) and found that the termination of the voucher was proper because the mother was dishonest by not disclosing her son’s juvenile record by leaving several questions blank on the recertification form including the question regarding whether any member of the household had engaged in criminal activity. Under California law, juvenile court record information is confidential and may only be redisclosed by agencies involved in the juvenile court proceedings pursuant to an order of the juvenile court. Furthermore, California law specifically provides that juvenile court proceedings and adjudications are not to be deemed criminal for any purpose.

 

Bay Legal approached YLC for assistance in challenging the termination of the voucher. Using the housing law expertise of Bay Legal and the juvenile law and civil litigation expertise of YLC, the Bay Legal/YLC team decided to proceed with a federal court action under an infrequently used provision in federal law instead of challenging the administrative hearing decision in a state court writ proceeding. The Federal Housing Act provides public housing recipients the right to challenge in federal court a housing authority’s improper disclosure or use of criminal record information.

 

After nine months of litigation, the Bay Legal/YLC team was able to secure a settlement that will result in the re-issuance of the Section 8 housing voucher to the client, and re-evaluation of the housing authority policy on the use of juvenile record information. The case will serve as a precedent and stop other housing authorities from improperly seeking and using juvenile court record information to deny housing assistance to eligible families. Youth Law Center attorneys Maria Ramiu and Corene Kendrick served as co-counsel with lead counsel David Levin, Monique Doryland and Jesus Vargas of Bay Legal.