PHA Must Reinstate Voucher While Case Is Pending
Facts: A Section 8 resident sued the local PHA and its executive director based on their termination of her voucher. She asserted a violation of her due process rights and violations of her right to a reasonable accommodation for her son’s disability. She also asked the judge for a Temporary Restraining Order and a preliminary injunction seeking reinstatement of her family’s Section 8 voucher while this lawsuit is pending.
According to the resident, she has been a participant in good standing in the Section 8 program for over 18 years. She had never before been terminated from the program, nor had she ever faced a proposed termination of her Section 8 voucher. On her voucher are herself, her seven minor children, and her disabled adult son. At the time she filed this complaint, she and her eight children were effectively homeless.
From early 2012 until Jan. 19, 2017, the family experienced a host of problems with the conditions in their home, including a non-working oven and refrigerator, rotten kitchen cabinets, rats burrowing through her floor and walls, a leaking sink, a broken garage door, and a driveway that flooded when it rained. During her tenancy, she complained repeatedly about these issues, both to the property manager and PHA staff. Although the owner repaired some items, he failed to repair others or left items unrepaired for extraordinary lengths of time.
In September 2016, inspectors conducted several scheduled inspections. The results noted that there were many repair problems, including some listed as the resident’s responsibility and some listed as the owner’s responsibility. The resident fixed the few minor damages she or her family caused in a timely manner. Four items listed as her responsibility remained unrepaired, but she disputed that she or her children caused those damages. Therefore, she didn’t believe the remaining repairs were, in fact, her responsibility to fix.
On Sept. 13, 2016, the PHA sent her a proposed termination notice, which cited a missed inspection and damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear. The resident requested an informal hearing, and one was held on Nov. 3, 2016.
The only person at the hearing with first-hand knowledge of the conditions was the resident herself, as neither the compliance officer nor the hearing officer had ever been to her home. At the hearing, she explained that she missed one inspection because her disabled son was in the hospital on that day. She also explained that she fixed the repairs that she had caused, and she didn’t believe the remaining repairs were her responsibility. The PHA representative present at the hearing had no evidence showing she had caused any of the damages.
The hearing officer issued a decision upholding the termination of her voucher. In December, the owner filed an eviction action against her for nonpayment of rent. Fearing an eviction on her credit report, and not wanting to get into further trouble with the PHA, the resident came to an agreement with the owner at court. She agreed to move out voluntarily by Jan. 19, 2017; in exchange, the owner dismissed the eviction action.
The resident and her children moved into a one-room weekly motel with no kitchen or food storage area aside from a mini-refrigerator. As a result of her stay at the weekly motel, she has incurred extra expenses for rent, food, and storage.
Ruling: A Georgia district court ordered the PHA to immediately reinstate her Section 8 voucher until the case could be fully adjudicated.
Reasoning: For a preliminary injunction, the resident had to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the case, that she would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, that the harm suffered by her in the absence of an injunction would exceed the harm suffered by the opposing party if the injunction is issued, and that an injunction would not disserve the public interest.
Here, the court concluded that she satisfied all the requirements. The court stated the PHA had no basis to terminate her voucher. The PHA offered no evidence that she or her family damaged the unit. On the contrary, the weight of the evidence showed that the contested items were due either to the state of disrepair at the time the family moved in or ordinary wear and tear. Also, the court noted the balance of hardships clearly favors the resident because she will continue to be harmed without injunctive relief, whereas the PHA won’t suffer any harm if the injunction is granted.
The court also stated the community has a public interest in ensuring that its members have decent, safe, and adequate housing, particularly for minor children and their parents. Therefore, the court ruled that it would not disserve the public interest to issue injunctive relief for the resident and her family.
• Goodman v. PHA of Dekalb County, February 2017