Fair Housing Council Caught Stanton City Manager Off Guard

jake.jpgJake Wager picked up the daily newspaper that Aug. 16 Saturday morning and could not believe what he read.

The owners of the Plaza Court Apartments in Stanton agreed to dish out $618,000 to settle a fair housing lawsuit with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the Fair Housing Council of Orange County and nine families who reside at Plaza Court Apartments.

This was disconcerting to Wager, seeing as how he's Stanton's city manager.

“I wish the Fair Housing Council would have advised us,” he told the Weekly. “We would have joined them to make sure the property manager was following the law. It came as a surprise to me. I opened the newspaper and read about it like everyone else.”

It also would have been nice to get a heads up to the largest settlement of a familial discrimination suit in state history because the Stanton City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, floated Plaza Court Apartments a $500,000 loan years ago to spruce up its complex adjacent to the $2.5 million Renaissance Plaza redevelopment area. The council last year forgave a portion of the loan and extended the deadline to pay it back. (Read more about the settlement in "Historic $618,000 settlement was money well-spent for owners of low-income Stanton apartment complex")

Connie Der Torossian, the Fair Housing Council’s marketing director, said it is standard procedure for cities not to be informed about ongoing investigations within their borders.

“We usually don’t involve the cities because we don’t want things to get political when we have a violation of fair-housing law,” she said. “So, we don’t need the city’s input to enforce housing laws, but they are able to ask us if we have received complaints.”

The city was sent the press release announcing the settlement the same time the media was informed, according to Der Torossian, who added, “I don’t think the city had anything to know about it until we settled the case.”

The settlement represented a timely victory for the Fair Housing Council, as the Santa Ana-based agency’s management and effectiveness have been battered by the Orange County Register since April. The Register's editorial board had already teed off on the council before reporters Rachanee Srisavasdi and Teri Sforza uncovered a slew of problems, including a former staffer who committed fraud and an oft-absent CEO who feuded with board members over accusations of poor management.

Following the aggressive reporting, a few cities withdrew support for the non-profit, which was founded in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The CEO was later fired. (CLARIFICATION: D. Elizabeth Pierson was actually placed on administrative leave and then her contract was not renewed.)

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