Law Suit: Housing Authority Abuses Citizenship Question
[Note: By the time this story reaches it's reading audience during the month of February, please be aware that an Injunction has just been filed in Federal Court in an effort to stop the Oakland Housing Authority from violating Federal Law.]
Housing Authority Abuses Citizenship Question
The Right Hand Of Darkness Interrorgates The Poor
By Lynda Carson February 1, 2006
Oakland CA -- Oakland's poor have been targeted by the Oakland Housing Authority for a massive investigation that uses unlawful practices which are violating federal law.
Housing officials have been threatening to evict it's tenants from public housing and the Section 8 program if they fail to participate in the latest in interrogation techniques, being administered by the Oakland Housing Authority.
The Oakland Housing Authority owns or provides rental assistance for around 14,450 units, many of those filled with families.
Among other things, tenants are being forced to prove their citizenship, even though many have been in the housing programs for years and were born in this country. This is being done, despite HUD's "ONE TIME" verification policy, and in spite of the housing authorities own Administrative Plan under the section known as the "FREQUENCY OF OBTAINING VERIFICATION."
FREQUENCY OF OBTAINING VERIFICATION:
"For each family member, citizenship/eligible noncitizen status will only be verified once.
This verification will be obtained prior to admission. If the status of any family member
was not determined prior to admission, verification of their status will be obtained at the
next regular reexamination. Prior to a new member joining the family, their status will be
"For each family member age 6 and above, verification of Social Security Number will be
obtained only once. This verification will be accomplished prior to admission. When a
family member who did not have a Social Security Number at admission receives a
Social Security Number, that number will be verified at the next regular reexamination.
Likewise, when a child turns six, their verification will be obtained at the next regular
Under federal law, the housing authority is ONLY allowed to force tenants to prove their citizenship or verify their social security numbers ONE TIME, while their in a federally funded
housing assistance program. PERIOD.
In defiance of federal law, and without self restraint or probable cause of wrong doing, the Oakland Housing Authority has been going back and forcing thousands of U.S. citizens to re-verify their citizenship and social security numbers all over again.
Civil rights attorney Bill Simpich, is alarmed by what is happening in Oakland and said, "It's hard to tell just where the push to secretly cut the poorest tenants from the Section 8 program ends and the push to spy on Americans by Homeland Security begins."
During recent months, the tenants have been receiving interrogation packets that imply there must be some kind of criminal activity occurring in the nations housing programs, and everyone is being forced to prove their innocense or make a declaration of "no wrong doing", before they are even being charged with a crime or malfeasance.
Making matters worse, the tenants may be charged with WRONG DOING if they fail to fill out the interrogation forms properly, even though they were not trained to do so.
Tenants are being scrutinized like never before, and investigations are taking place all over the nation. Recently, HUD conducted a 6 month investigation in Portland Maine, with the cooperation of the Portland Housing Authority. The housing authority owns around 1,000 units in the city, and also administers about 1,700 rental vouchers to the poor. Using a newly available database to identify possible fraud, investigators matched wage information that clients sent in to the state with information given to the housing authority.
These investigations collect way more information than what is necessary, and documents reveal they are collecting data that is actually excluded from the verification process needed to verify an individuals income or assets.
Descending like a thief in the night, upon the swift wings of a federal mail courier, an interrogation packet silently is slipped into the slot of a door, awaiting to be opened by an unsuspecting occupant.
"Your being invited to be forced into making a Personal Declaration, that you yourself had no intention of ever declaring," says the packet to you through the sealed edges of an unopened envelope.
The thick packet beckons you, and says, "open me." When opened, the packet quietly asks for a photo ID from you, immediately demands that you must prove your citizenship, coerces you into verifying your social security number again, and then wants to know if you have have been involved in any criminal activity during the past 3 years.
You can feel the right hand of darkness slipping it's way further into your cognizance, seeking more answers, always probing ever deeper into the essence of your being, demanding to know everything. The horror of it all unfolding right before your very eyes.
"Answer the questions, or face the threat of homelessness," says the packet impatiently.
As if that is not enough, the packet then asks you for your full legal name, date of birth and suddenly asks if anyone gives you money or pays your bills. "Yes or no," the packet demands.
Like another slap in the face, the packet then asks, "Have you or any person in your household ever used any names or social security numbers other than the one listed on the Personal Declaration," as you feel yourself shudder from the intensity of it all. "Yes or no," the packet wants to know, and you must reply.
The housing officals already know that you've been in Oakland's Section 8 program for the last fifteen years, and that your name is still the same as when you joined the program so many years ago, but the venemous sting of the interrogation spins your head for a loop, as you wonder why you are being treated like a criminal.
"This is Kafkaesque," you think. "I am being forced to prove my innocense, before I am even being charged with a crime or wrong doing!"
Are they looking for terrorists, you wonder? Illegal people or undocumented immigrants? You suddenly recall a study explaining why so many Americans have been deprived of government assistance because they lack a photo ID or birth certificate, and you wonder if your next in line to get screwed by the system. But, your not sure what really is going on.
Wake up, says the packet, as it shakes you from your thoughts, "Are you or any person in the household subject to a lifetime registration requirement under any state's sex offender program?"
"Have you or any person in the household been arrested or convicted for the manufacturing of methamphetamines," the packet demands to know in a menacing tone.
As the sweat is starting to drip from your brow, the packet suddenly twists your arm sharply behind your back and demands that you must sign the Declaration of 214 Status, in which it states that you certify under penalty of perjury, that to the best of your knowledge, you are lawfully in the United States because you are a citizen by birth, a naturalized citizen or a national of the United States.
By now, your feeling thoroughly worked over as it starts to sink in that things are just starting to warm up, because theres still another 11 full pages of demands and questions to go before this interrogation has reached a conclusion.
Never before have you felt worked over like this, as you wonder how many more times do you have to sign a statement under the penalty of perjury, to proclaim your citizenship to the nation that has no allegiance to you or your family.
The clock is ticking, and you have been ordered to fill out the interrogation packet before your friendly Housing Representative comes by to pick it up. You can't stop thinking that if you give a wrong answer or fail to prove your citizenship to the satisfaction of the Housing Rep., you just might be tossed out onto the streets as a homeless person.
It sears into your mind that by signing this "Personal Declaration" being forced upon you that it also states; "You understand that, Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code makes it a criminal offense to make willful, false statements or misrepresentations to any department or agency of the United States as to any matter within it's jurisdiction."
You suddenly realize that you feel like you are "skydiving without a parachute," and everything is moving real fast, as the horror of what is happening to you takes your breath away.
The above questions are only a few that are in the actual interrogation packet sent out to Oakland's tenants. Under threat of losing their housing assistance if they fail to do so, the tenants are required to answer the above questions, or else.
Vivian Hain lives with her family in E. Oakland, and received one of the interrogation packets in her mail that demanded everyone in her family must prove their citizenship. Residing in an 8 unit public housing building, it turns out that everyone was forced to prove their citizenship in the building, and the people were outraged, said Vivian Hain.
"This caught everyone by surprise," said Ms. Hain, "and we had a time limit placed on us to dig up all the documentation the housing authority wanted from us pronto."
"I could'nt find birth certificates for 2 of my children, and had to pay $35 dollars each for new Certified Copies of the originals, which ended up taking food from our table because we are so poor. It was a real hardship to go through this, and I still have a letter from the housing authority that threatens to evict me and my family from public housing if I failed to come up with the birth certificates," Hain said.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in California it may take 10 to 12 weeks to obtain a birth certificate from the county where the birth occurred. And if you submit the wrong information while trying to get a birth certificate, it may take as long as 6 to 8 months.
The Oakland Housing Authority barely gave it's tenants 5 to 6 weeks to come up with all the documentation being requested and to fill out all the paper work the tenants were not trained to fill out.
Theres around 6 million adoptees in the U.S., and most of them have been deprived of ever being able to get their hands on their original birth certificates.
In one study, it states that theres more than 3 million children born in the U.S. from undocumented parents, and many of them also may not have birth certificates as a result.
Another study points out that many people have never been issued birth certificates because they were born at home and their birth was never officially recorded. It's even been estimated that around one in five African-Americans (20 %) born around 1939 through 1940, were not born in hospitals because of racial discrimination that kept their mothers from giving birth inside a hospital.
It's a fact that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship at birth to almost everyone born in the United States or in U.S. jurisdictions, according to the principle of jus soli.
So why are petty bureaucrats threatening to kick U.S. citizens out of their housing if they fail to prove their citizenship?
That very same question was raised on November 18, when Wendell Harper of KPFA News contacted officials at the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), to ask if a crack down was going on.
Click below for the link to the November 18, 6:00 pm, KPFA Evening News...
During the news report, an OHA official states that the housing authority is demanding certified birth certificates from present and prospective tenants in their housing programs. Regardless, of what the housing authority is demanding, the office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has no such eligibility requirement.
HUD leaves to the discretion of the nation's housing agencies how they may check for proof of citizenship or eligibility, and according to Larry Bush a Communications Director at HUD, these things can be verified in several ways and theres no need to force people to come up with certified copies of a birth certificate. "People are required to show a legal identity, their required to show a proof of age and citizenship, which may be shown through a variety of ways such as a voter registration card, or motor vehicle ID card rather than a drivers license if they do not have a drivers license," said Bush.
There is nothing in the Administrative Plan of the OHA that says it is required for tenants to provide a photo ID to remain in the housing programs, yet the tenants are being forced to provide photo ID's upon demand in the interrogation packet being sent out to them.
In HUD's web page, among the frequently asked questions, it asks;
Does HUD require a PHA to obtain copies of government issued photo IDs, for applicants, to establish legal identity/citizenship?
Answer: No. The regulations do not require this type of verification to establish legal identity/citizenship.
Click below for HUD's Verification and Frequently Asked Questions...
link to www.hud.gov
In the November 18 KPFA news story, Wendell Harper goes on to ask the housing authority official, "Whats the policy regarding eligibility requirements? Are people being required to show certified birth certificates," asks Harper.
"Yes, we don't accept copies of birth certificates, we look at actual birth certificates, theres so much theft of identity and we're supposed to make copies and make them a part of our tenant's files," said Sharon Harrison Coffey, the Deputy Executive Director at the Oakland Housing Authority. "It's required by the federal government, and for both public housing and Section 8 it is a federal registry requirement thats codified in section's 24 CFR 5.508F and 5.502. This has been going on for years. Congress required that we do this for all of our new admissions, and that we go back and we verify everyone who is on the program, and you know, verify social security numbers as well," said Coffey.
With a trick of words, Sharon Harrison Coffey, failed to mention the section in the OHA's own Administrative Plan that clearly states that tenants only have to verify their citizenship and social security number ONCE, because of the "ONE TIME POLICY" under the section known as the FREQUENCY OF OBTAINING VERIFICATION.
Not only is there an abuse of discretion going on that forces tenants to provide a certified copy of a birth certificate when unnecessary, the OHA is clearly in violation of their own policies as well as federal law by forcing people to prove their citizenship over and over again to the satisfaction of some sadistic functionary in Oakland's housing authority.
This is not about fraud, or undocumented people. It is all about breaking the trust of it's tenants by breaching their own administration policies as well as federal law that prohibits such activity.
It is all about the lack of self restraint on the part of the housing authority to abide by federal law, and the lack of probable cause showing that the tenant is engaged in any kind of wrong doing.
It is clearly a hardship or burden for all the tenants in Oakland's public housing and Section 8 program to continuously be harassed into proving their citizenship under the threat of losing their housing if they fail to do so. Especially the elderly and chronically ill.
Making matters worse for tenants is the interrogation packet that makes every one feel like they are being forced to prove their innocense, despite the fact that no one is being charged with a crime or wrong doing beforehand.
In addition, in violation of FEDERAL LAW the tenants in Oakland are being forced to sign a release/consent form that fails to meet the minimum standards under 24 CFR 5.230 .
In the consent form that fails to meet minimum standards under federal law, the Oakland Housing Authority claims the right to release just about any information they want from the tenant's files to other federal, state or local agencies, including collection agencies and the DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.
With so much theft of information going on in the collection agencies, this is not the type of information that Oakland tenants want to see being extracted from them, only to be handed over to someone that sells it later for a profit.
And with all the illegal spying going on in this country by the federal government, one can only wonder why the OHA wants to hand over all of the tenant's secrets to the Department of Defense.
On December 15 2005, a law suit was filed against the Oakland Housing Authority known as CASE NO. CO5-0523. [Lynda Carson Versus Oakland Housing Authority]
The plaintiff, a citizen of the United States claims that the FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION, is for ABUSE OF DISCRETION.
SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION, is under the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO PRIVACY.
THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION, is under the PRIVACY ACT OF 1974.
FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION, is under the RIGHT TO FINANCIAL PRIVACY ACT.
Injunctive and declaratory relief to halt the demands for photo ID, a birth certificate, and to sign the releases as presently drafted have been requested.
Bill Simpich, a Civil Rights Attorney, may be reached at; 510/444-0226 firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynda Carson may be reached at; 510/763-1085 email@example.com
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