By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - The United States has joined a lawsuit accusing the city of 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 on Wednesday.
The decision to intervene adds legal firepower to a case originally brought by Los Angeles wheelchair user Mei Ling.
It also signals the government's belief that the case has a greater chance of success than is typical in False Claims Act lawsuits. Such lawsuits let private whistleblowers like Ling sue on behalf of the government, and share in any recoveries.
Los Angeles, which has about 4 million people, was accused of falsely certifying its compliance with the Fair Housing Act and other laws protecting the disabled, a condition of receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These laws prohibit discrimination against the disabled, and require setting aside 7 percent of federally-funded multifamily units for people with impaired mobility, sight or hearing.
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 units.
It also said neither Los Angeles nor CRA/LA monitored whether "sub-recipients" of HUD funds complied with the laws.
"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 in the Justice Department's civil division.
A spokesman for Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer had no immediate comment. The CRA/LA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The nonprofit Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley also sued on Ling's behalf. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A copy of the complaint has yet to be made public.
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. 11-00974.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Bernard Orr)