May 26, 2000

Cuomo Says $21 Million Discrimination Settlement Will Create Housing Opportunities for 2,000 California Farm Worker Families

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced a landmark $21 million settlement of housing discrimination complaints filed by 24 Hispanic farm worker families, and said the funds will provide greater housing opportunities for 2,000 poor farm worker families in southern California.

The 24 families said in their complains filed with HUD that Riverside County, CA, targeted Hispanic-owned and occupied mobile home parks for selective and discriminatory enforcement of its health and safety code and regulations. The families also alleged that the county improperly attempted to evict some of them from their homes in three mobile home parks in Perez, Mora and Hernandez in the Coachella Valley.

Under the settlement —which was negotiated by HUD under the Fair Housing Act—Riverside County agreed to make nearly $6.1 million in loans and grants for community-wide projects, and agreed to pay about $747,000 to the 24 farm worker families. Some of the Riverside County funds will come from the county's annual HUD assistance.

An additional $4.2 million in leveraged loans and grants will be made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the City of Coachella. USDA and Coachella were not accused of housing discrimination, and simply contributed funds to benefit the community.

In addition to monetary relief, Riverside County agreed to make policy and procedural changes to its code enforcement process and to provide fair housing training for code enforcement staff. Riverside County admits no wrongdoing in the agreement with HUD and the families.

"This settlement is a victory for all sides," Coumo said. "It will create vastly improved housing for families now in Third World slum conditions, it will make Riverside County a better place to live, and it will ensure that there is no housing discrimination in mobile home parks. Riverside County has acted responsibly and has done the right thing to benefit all its residents."

HUD will monitor the agreement for five years.

Cuomo visited the area last summer and saw the terrible housing conditions of farm workers first-hand. Cuomo met with farm workers who were homeless and slept along roads and on undeveloped land, talked with others who slept in their cars or pickup trucks, and met others who lived in dilapidated trailers or shacks without indoor plumbing.

Cuomo pledged during his visit to bring together local and federal resources to create better housing conditions, and the settlement announced today fulfills that pledge.

Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson said: "I am pleased that the county has been able to partner with HUD and California Rural Legal Assistance to address the critical needs of farm worker housing in the Coachella Valley. Safe and sanitary housing for our farm labor workforce and their families remains a No. 1 priority in Riverside County. Although we have made tremendous pro-gress, much remains to be done and we welcome any support and assistance we may receive from our friends in Washington, DC."

Ilene Jacobs, Director of Litigation for California Rural Legal Assistance, which represented the farm workers in the case said: "HUD helped hammer out a remedy acceptable to everyone involved in the dispute, avoiding lengthy litigation. The enforcement agreement is a major victory for a largely disenfranchised population, compensating victims of housing discrimination and resulting in a multimillion dollar cooperative effort to build housing and provide needed services to farm workers throughout the area for years to come."

One of the farm workers who filed the housing discrimination complaint with HUD, Sotero Bautista, said: "I never thought I would be able to own a house. I'm happy that my wife and I are being offered the opportunity to own a home and improve our lives and living conditions."

Under the $747,000 portion of the settlement, each of the 24 farm worker families will get $28,000 to help them buy new mobile homes, pay for delivery costs, fund any needed repairs and upgrades, and pay for relocation costs. Another $60,000 will used to dispose of all the substandard homes where the families now live. Some of the individual complainants will share the remaining nearly $15,000 in funds.

Under the $16.1 million portion of the settlement funded by Riverside County for community wide projects, the county will:

Provide at least $10 million for low-income housing developments over the next 10 years.

Use $1.8 million to create and fund a new 40-home single-family housing development.

Commit $1.5 million to create a farm workers services center to be run by Catholic Charities to help farm workers get housing, health care, adult education, job training and jobs, plus another $24,000 to make farm workers aware of the center. The center will also include showers, toilets, laundry facilities and parking.

Use $1.5 million for the Villas Oscar Romero farm worker housing project in Mecca.

Provide $750,000 plus technical assistance to improve living conditions at the Torres-Martinez Tribe's mobile home development.

Modify existing eligibility criteria for 20 potential homeowners who have been displaced from mobile home parks in order to allow them to qualify for a total of $400,000 from an existing county loan/grant program.

Commit $50,000 in HUD funds to create a non-profit housing corporation specializing in farm worker housing, another $50,000 to publish the results of five-year housing discrimination testing study in the county, and $10,000 to carry out a community education and outreach plan to combat housing discrimination.

The remaining $4.2 million in funds will come from these sources: $3 million in low-interest loans from USDA for a new single-family housing development in Coachella; a $500,000 grant for the same development from the City of Coachella; and $700,000 in low-interest loans from USDA for the Torres-Martinez Tribe's mobile home development.

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