A 72-year-old woman with disabilities who has lived in the same Santa Monica studio for 38 years has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against her landlords. In the suit filed Monday, St. James v. Bills, tenant Zandra St. James charges that her landlord violated state law by refusing to accept her housing choice voucher to offset her monthly rent. As a result, St. James faces eviction.

St. James’ apartment is rent-controlled, but with annual incremental increases. The rent has risen to the point that it now demands more than 90 percent of her monthly Social Security disability check. She was awarded a housing choice voucher in 2019 and immediately sought to use the subsidy to help pay her rent for the home she loves. The complaint alleges that the landlord refused to accept the voucher.

“I was very happy to receive my Section 8 voucher after years of waiting,” said St. James. “I am hopeful that through this process, I will be able to use my voucher so I can afford to live in the home where I have lived for most of my life. I hope my case will help many others who are in similar situations.”

The housing choice voucher program, often referred to as “Section 8,” provides tenant-based rental assistance. Low-income tenants who receive housing choice vouchers pay 30 percent of their monthly income to the landlord for rent. Local housing authorities, which administer the program, pay the remainder directly to the landlord.

“The housing choice voucher program is designed to expand housing opportunities for low-income renters of all kinds,” said Denise McGranahan, Senior Attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which represents St. James. “It is also critical that low-income seniors like St. James can age in place. If St. James’ landlord is able to refuse her voucher, she will be priced out of one of the few below-market units left in Santa Monica. The voucher is her lifeline to stay in her long-term home and to continue to live independently in the community.”

Landlord refusals to accept tenants with government-guaranteed rental payments leave many tenants unable to find affordable housing. Additionally, landlord refusal is often discrimination-by-proxy against racial minorities, who are disproportionately represented among voucher-holders across the country and in California.

To address this issue in the midst of the state’s housing and homelessness crisis, the California Legislature passed SB 329 last year, which prohibits discrimination against tenants based on the use of subsidies like the housing choice voucher. Prior to SB 329, the City of Santa Monica already had a similar local ordinance.

“Protections against discrimination like this are an important tool for addressing our statewide housing crisis,” said Matt Warren, Attorney at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which also represents St. James. “Housing choice vouchers are essential for many people with low-incomes to keep a roof over their head, and to stay above water. California in particular cannot afford for landlords to refuse qualified tenants who are able to pay rent using vouchers.”

The complaint alleges that Bills’ refusal to accept the housing choice voucher is based in part on a desire to force St. James to leave. Since Ms. St. James is a long-standing tenant with stabilized rent below the area median rate, the landlords have an incentive to pressure her to leave, which is an eviction that would otherwise not be allowed under Santa Monica’s renter protections. If evicted, it is likely that St. James will have extreme difficulty locating adequate, stable housing to meet her needs.

The lawsuit names as defendants apartment owner WIB Holdings, Inc. and its principal, Barbara Bills. The City of Santa Monica has also sued Bills and WIB Holdings for the same discriminatory refusal to accept St. James’ voucher.

St. James seeks to remain stably housed, and to ensure that other voucher holders avoid unfair refusals by landlords.

Submitted by Sara Williams

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  1. There needs to be more coverage around the harmful practices of predatory landlords pushing out seniors and low income hard-working folks in Santa Monica. The data shows the extent to which renters rights are still not protecting long-standing citizens from access to affordable housing. If we care about providing viable housing to those who need it the most, we need to publicize and persecute those that unscrupulously prey upon the elderly and poor. Shame on them.

  2. Someone made a blog on her. Google her
    And you will see. She needs to be stopped
    Her and her son

  3. Who pays the upkeep? Who will make it a nice place to live. Government needs to get out of Business. They listen to financial absent crackpots demanding low rents. This women knew her days there where numbered. Now she should move.
    We are not a socialist country just yet.
    I bet all the California public servents take a pay cut because their wages are too high??
    Yes the same ones who want low rents for the poor?

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