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Los Angeles may have to pay millions to Section 8 subsidized housing recipients

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 15:  A large "rent" banner is posted on the side of an apartment building on June 15, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  According to a report by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, the tepid real estate market could see a turnaround with the price of rental properties surging and vacancies dropping from 10.6 percent in 2009 to 9.5 percent last year, the lowest level since 2002.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The city of Los Angeles could be forced to pay millions of dollars to renters in subsidized housing.

Some 20,000 low-income Angelenos in a government housing program may each get hundreds if not thousands of dollars from the city, thanks to a court ruling. A federal appeals court on Monday unanimously ruled that the city failed to properly inform Section 8 recipients that their housing subsidies were getting cut.

Barrett Litt, the attorney leading the class action suit, said notices sent by the housing authority over a two-year period beginning in 2004 were heavy on technical jargon.

"It was incomprehensible," Litt said. "It took half an hour for people to explain it to me."

Litt argued that as a result, his clients didn’t get adequate warning to budget for the extra costs they’d have to shoulder — an average of $104 a month. He’s pushing the city to reimburse the estimated 20,000 Section 8 recipients who were subjected to the subsidy cuts, some for a few months, others for up to a year. 

"You're talking about $100 a month. Essentially this came out of the food that people had or any spare money they had for any kind of pleasure," Litt said. "That’s the reality of their lives."

It’s now up to a lower court, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to decide whether the city has to come up with the money. Litt said it could take at least a year to complete the process.

Neither the L.A. City Attorney’s Office nor the Housing Authority returned calls seeking comment.