New Orleans, LA

Fair housing group seeks contempt order for parish

June 10, 2009
As the fallout from a federal fair housing lawsuit over four mixed-income Chalmette apartment complexes continues to mount in St. Bernard Parish, parish leaders were in Baton Rouge Wednesday asking a state board to take another look at the amount of low-income rentals already in the parish.
     St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro and Councilmen George Cavignac, Fred Everhardt and Wayne Landry went before members of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency to argue that St. Bernard is already saturated with subsidized rentals that threaten to destabilize the entire housing market -- without adding four more 72-unit complexes.
     The housing agency allocated low-income housing tax credits last November that are crucial in financing construction of the four proposed Chalmette apartment buildings at the center of the court dispute.
     "We're not a community that can afford to exclude anyone," Taffaro said. "We can't afford to exclude affordable housing, market-rate housing, subsidized housing. But what we cannot afford also is to unbalance that formula."

OPINION: Civil rights for all: A look into the rebuilding landscape for people with physical disabilities

May 28, 2009
Ask anyone on the street to describe civil rights. Chances are they will bring up issues of race, gender and/or sexuality. They may refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks.
     Unfortunately, even the most ardent advocate may omit consideration of a class of people who have been dehumanized and oppressed throughout the United States' history: people with disabilities.
     Until recently, people with physical and mental disabilities were considered members of an unfortunate class. They were relegated to asylums and forced to live insular lives.
     Disability was considered so abhorrent that Franklin D. Roosevelt, when serving as President from 1933 to 1945, almost never allowed himself to be photographed in his wheelchair. He had suffered polio and was unable to walk.

City Planning Commission approves controversial plan for 'work force' housing

May 27, 2009
The arguments were familiar, but the outcome was different Tuesday when the New Orleans City Planning Commission voted once again on developer Harold Foley's controversial plan to build 36 single-family homes on a narrow strip of land along Morrison Road in eastern New Orleans.
     The homes, designed to provide affordable "work force" housing, would be directly behind homes along North Lake Carmel Drive in the gated Lake Carmel subdivision, where many houses are much larger and more expensive than those Foley plans to build.
     Many Lake Carmel residents fear his development would threaten their property values and quality of life, particularly because the homes would not be sold immediately but would be rented for 15 years under a lease-purchase arrangement.
     Enough commission members agreed with the critics' arguments in March that Foley's subdivision request was rejected on a 4-4 tie vote. Tuesday's revote resulted in 6-2 approval.

Federal judge rules against parish in multi-family housing lawsuit

March 26, 2009
A federal judge has ruled in favor of a fair housing group that claimed a St. Bernard Parish building ban unfairly discriminated against minorities trying to rent in the parish.
     U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan has ordered the parish to lift its moratorium on construction of multi-family housing, paving the way for a Dallas developer to begin construction of four 72-unit mixed-income apartment complexes in Chalmette.
     In the court order, issued last night, Berrigan cited plaintiffs' arguments that the housing ban would have a disparate impact on African-Americans. She noted several statistics from an expert witness brought on by the housing group: that African-Americans are 85 percent more likely to live in buildings with more than five units than whites, and that African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to live in rental housing.

Group claims housing rule is biased against blacks

March 12, 2009
Accusing officials in a suburban New Orleans parish of trying to keep blacks from moving there after Hurricane Katrina, a housing advocacy group is asking a federal judge to strike down a parish limit on the construction of new multifamily homes.
      U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan heard testimony Wednesday in a case that has resurrected a dispute between St. Bernard Parish officials and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.
     The center claims the parish's September 2008 moratorium on building structures with more than five units is an end run around an earlier court settlement over a different housing regulation.
     Last year, the predominantly white parish agreed to repeal an ordinance that barred residents from renting single-family homes to anyone other than a blood relative.

Feds extend rental aid for Katrina victims

February 20, 2009
The federal government is providing six more months of rental assistance to give thousands of families affected by the 2005 hurricanes extra time to reach self-sufficiency or to get into other housing aid programs.
     About 31,400 families have continued receiving federal help paying rent as part of a disaster housing program that was set to expire March 1.
     Congress appropriated $85 million in vouchers for those who would still need federal aid after the program ended. But U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said Friday the Bush administration had begun moving a "very small share" of households — primarily, the elderly and the disabled — to the voucher program before leaving office and that no contact had been made with a large number of families when Donovan arrived at HUD several weeks ago.

Fair-housing advocate ponders mayoral bid

January 26, 2009
James Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, dipped his toe into local political waters last week as he made it clear that he is considering entering the mayoral race. “I write to you today as we inaugurate Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and celebrate a new direction for our nation,” Perry wrote in an email last Tuesday. “President Obama’s ascendancy fulfills the hopes of my parents, our grandparents and all who believe in America’s greatness and reject old patterns of division and hatred. “Yet as we cheer America’s progress, we can’t escape our frustration with New Orleans’ slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina,” he continued. “We find ourselves wondering if the tide of hope that has lifted our nation can carry our great city along with it, too, and deliver us to the better future we envisioned for New Orleans so many months ago.” Perry, a product of eastern New Orleans, graduated from McMain High School and the University of New Orleans. After graduating from UNO, Perry took a post with the Preservation Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the diverse neighborhoods that make New Orleans unique.

Fair housing suit filed in New Orleans

November 13, 2008
Today civil rights and fair housing groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The suit alleges that the Road Home, Louisiana's Hurricane Katrina recovery program, discriminates against African-American homeowners in New Orleans. The Road Home, an $11 billion federally-funded program, is the largest housing redevelopment program in U.S. history. The suit is being filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of five individuals representing a class of more than 20,000 African-American homeowners and two fair housing organizations, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the National Fair Housing Alliance. "Forty years after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, residential segregation still permeates New Orleans," said James Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. "Homes in communities of color still have lower values than those in white communities even when the condition, style and quality of the homes are comparable. Louisiana's program builds on this history of discrimination. Only when housing opportunities are created for all residents of New Orleans will our recovery truly be successful."
     According to Cohen Milstein's Joseph M. Sellers, head of the firm's Civil Rights and Employment Practice, "HUD and Louisiana have perpetrated a cruel hoax on African-American victims of the Katrina and Rita hurricanes by offering assistance that Congress intended would permit them to rebuild their destroyed homes but which falls far short of its noble promise by linking it to the depressed values of their pre-storm segregated housing rather than to the cost of reconstruction."

Reconstruction after Katrina: Brazen housing discrimination continues

August 30, 2008
After she tried to rent out her home, Kiana Alexander found it burned to the ground.
     The stories sound like strange echoes from another era, as if someone had wound up the old Victrola of history and let the Dixie tunes rip. They begin on a half-abandoned street in St. Bernard Parish, an aggressively white community on the southeastern edge of New Orleans. That is where Daphne Clark, 39, an African-American supervisor at a group home, rented a house with help from a rental voucher last year, and that is where the harassment began. First, the Confederate flag hoisted over a neighbor's house followed by stares and sneers; then the official torment by the parish government as it waged a post-Hurricane Katrina crusade against the specter of rental housing. For Clark, this took the form of a series of "notices of violation" warning her that the parish would disconnect her utilities -- not because she had done anything wrong but because her landlord had failed to apply for a rental permit, as required by a new parish law. According to Hestel Stout, a white contractor working on Clark's house, the parish official who delivered one of these notices explained to him, "How would you like those types living next to you?"
     Such are the stories drifting out of New Orleans and its environs these days, dispatches from a rebuilding effort that often bears an alarming resemblance to a segregation re-enactment. Throughout the region, historically white suburbs, as well as one African-American neighborhood, have been tightening the housing noose by passing laws that restrict, limit or simply ban the building -- and even renting -- of homes that traditionally benefit poor and working-class people of color. Couched in the banal language of zoning and tax credits, density and permissive-use permits, these efforts often pass for legal and rarely raise eyebrows outside the small community of fair-housing monitors. But taken together -- and accompanied, as they so often are, by individual acts of flagrant racism -- they represent one of the most brazen and sweeping cases of housing discrimination in recent history.

St. Bernard, housing group reach accord over rental law

February 28, 2008
St. Bernard Parish has tentatively settled a lawsuit stemming from the Parish Council's adoption in 2006 of a restrictive post-Hurricane Katrina home rental ordinance that drew the ire of fair-housing advocates.
     In a consent decree filed recently in U.S. District Court in New Orleans the parish did not admit liability, but agreed to pay $32,500 to settle damage claims. The agreement between the parish and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center won't become final until U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan signs off on it.
     "We settled without an admission of any wrongdoing," St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro Jr. said Tuesday. "There was no finding of fault."

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