Lawyers find Hialeah Housing Authority Wrongly denied federal rental subsidies
Daily Business Review December 12, 2011
Jeff Hearne and Sean Rowley of Legal Services of Greater Miami and Randall Berg, Shawn Heller and Josh Glickman of the Florida Justice Institute were selected by Daily Business Review as Most Effective Public Interest Lawyers 2011. Click here to read more.
Randall Berg, Shawn Heller and Josh Glickman of the Florida Justice Institute and Jeff Hearne and Sean Rowley of Legal Services of Greater Miami
A young blind man applied for Section 8 government housing, but the Hialeah Housing Authority refused to email him an application or send a letter in Braille, stating he could read the notice in the newspaper like everyone else.
An elderly Cuban-American woman was told by the housing authority she couldn't apply for public housing without proof of her divorce — even though the divorce took place years earlier in Cuba and documents weren't available.
Facing a host of such cases of poor, elderly and disabled people denied Section 8 housing by the Hialeah Housing Authority, a team of public interest lawyers combined to take on the agency.
The team found the agency routinely requested irrelevant documents that were often impossible to produce, held sham hearings and failed to make accommodations so disabled people could apply for housing, according to the lawyers. In July 2009, they sued the authority in U.S. District Court in Miami.
"Why they were denying poor elderly, disabled people housing vouchers is beyond me," said lead counsel Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute. He was joined in the case by Shawn Heller and Josh Glickman, also of the Florida Justice Institute, and Jeff Hearne and Sean Rowley of Legal Services of Greater Miami.
The lawsuit rattled the agency and led to the firing of the HHA's executive director and top staff. It also spurred a policy change mandating the agency make housing vouchers more available and start conforming to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Housing Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
The suit was settled in April 2011. The HHA agreed to provide plaintiffs with long-overdue vouchers as well as nearly $250,000 in compensation, or about $20,000 per plaintiff.
"They're having hearings now and not rubber-stamping what staff says," Berg said. "To give the counsel for the Hialeah Housing Authority credit, they realized the case had merit and there were people in need of housing who were denied housing. Now, people are not being denied housing who need it. Our clients are very grateful and they are wonderful people."