E-Alerts & Press Releases

Mother challenges termination of housing benefits

Brief argues local housing agency violated her due process rights
January 30, 2017: If the local public housing agency is going to take away your rental assistance, shouldn’t they have to tell you why? Shouldn’t they have to provide sufficient evidence to support their decision? And shouldn’t you have an opportunity to challenge that decision? Karen McDonell certainly thought so. The mother of two children with disabilities, Ms. McDonell lived in an apartment that she could not afford without the assistance of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program. When she received a notice from the Harford County Housing Agency (HCHA) that her benefits would be terminated, she requested an informal review hearing. Ms. McDonell did not have legal representation at the hearing, and the HCHA did not keep a record of what happened at the hearing. Nevertheless, the HCHA sent her a letter stating that her housing benefits would be terminated without providing any further details about what obligations she had allegedly failed to meet that would warrant termination, or what her appeal rights were.
Ms. McDonell did her own research and learned she had a right to appeal. Represented by a public defender, she appealed to the circuit court, where the HCHA’s legal theories were set forth in the record for the first time. The court upheld the HCHA’s decision.
Undeterred, Ms. McDonell took her case to the Court of Special Appeals, now represented by the Public Justice Center. In the opening brief filed on January 30, 2017, Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Anthony May argued that before terminating benefits, local public housing agencies must provide the same procedural due process rights that participants are entitled to through Maryland’s state public housing agency. He outlined how the HCHA failed to maintain an adequate record of the informal termination hearing, failed to provide formal factual findings and legal conclusions based on those findings in the record, and failed to notify Ms. McDonell of her right to appeal. The brief also asserted that the HCHA’s reasons for terminating Ms. McDonell’s benefits were either illegal, arbitrary and capricious, or unsupported by the evidence and therefore legally insufficient. We hope that the case will not only vindicate Ms. McDonell’s rights, but also provide the court an opportunity to establish the standards local public housing agencies must follow before terminating a family’s housing benefits.

« Back