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Reasonable Accommodations for Tenants with Disabilities in Nursing Homes

Posted on 15. Nov, 2019 by in Blog

Living in a nursing home or in an assisted-living facility is meant to help relieve the uncertainty of independent living for elderly individuals and persons with disabilities. However, the housing rights of nursing home residents can be violated by nursing home staff if they fail to provide reasonable accommodations for residents with disabilities. One such accommodation utilized by many Deaf residents is Video Remote Interpreting (VRI).

VRI is an interpreting system that provides a method of communicating with those who primarily use American Sign Language (ASL). VRI uses videoconferencing technology to provide the services of a qualified interpreter to people at a different location. If requested by someone with a disability, the VRI system should be provided when there are no on-site interpreters available. Failure of a nursing home to provide this reasonable disability accommodation is illegal under the Fair Housing Act.

Across the country, however, we’ve seen that Deaf residents in nursing homes are not getting the support they need. In November 2015, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) in New York filed two federal fair housing lawsuits against operators of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. FHJC alleged that the care facilities refused to make ASL interpreters available to Deaf residents at dozens of facilities, violating the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act can protect nursing home residents from being discriminated against and ensures their right to reasonable accommodations, such as using VRI.

Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities should be safe places that elderly and disabled individuals can go to live when their life circumstances require it. Operators of nursing homes must ensure that their facilities are acting in accordance with the housing rights of their residents. If you or someone you know has been denied a reasonable accommodation or modification, contact GNOFHAC at (877) 445-2100 for free help.

The Ballot of YES on November 16th!

Posted on 08. Nov, 2019 by in Blog

On election day—November 16th—New Orleans voters have the opportunity to invest in housing and protect our community from discrimination. 

Passing the Infrastructure and Housing Bond would help the City of New Orleans fund important public improvement needs like drainage and storm-water management to avoid future catastrophes like cars clogging drains and flash floods. In a first for the city, $25 million of the bond will also be set aside for the construction and rehab of housing affordable to our community. Importantly, this is a way to fund infrastructure and affordable housing without raising taxes. Housing is scare and we need to push policy makers to create more opportunities for our communities to have housing and thrive.  

Another proposition on the ballot proposition will require an additional tax on short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, which would raise funds for infrastructure improvements in New Orleans. GNOFHAC has worked previously on the issues surrounding the flood of Airbnbs that have further gentrified historical New Orleans neighborhoods and pushing out New Orleanians from their homes. This ballot proposition could help existing rules to regulate the spread of short-term rentals throughout the city.

Lastly, voters will also have the opportunity to approve a Human Rights Commission for the City of New Orleans to protect residents from discrimination. With a Human Rights Commission, victims of discrimination are able to pursue justice through a process that can be quicker, more accessible, and more affordable than hiring a lawyer and going to court. Other cities across the U.S. have these mechanisms, which could serve as models for New Orleans’s commission. This Human Rights Commission’s work would complement what GNOFHAC already provides to Louisianans. 

GNOFHAC understands how confusing and expensive it can be to seek legal help, which is why we offer free legal services to anyone who experiences housing discrimination and are available to answer related questions by phone. If you feel you have been discriminated against by a housing provider, contact us at (504) 596-2100.       

There’s Something in the Air: Environmental Racism in Louisiana

Posted on 01. Nov, 2019 by in Blog

Louisiana’s investments in the oil and gas industry have resulted in an exponential increase in public health issues throughout the state. The industry’s continued dominance in Louisiana is directly responsible for the creation of “Cancer Alley,” the stretch of industrial plants located along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that has caused an unprecedented number of cancer diagnoses in the surrounding communities. While cancer does not discriminate by race, ethnicity, or income level, Louisiana’s excessive number of petrochemical facilities in African-American and working-class communities disproportionately affects those groups. These plants are not only poisoning the environment, but also people’s homes.

The oil and gas industry’s increased presence in Louisiana has accelerated the degradation of the environment throughout the state. Despite the serious public health implications that these facilities are having on their surrounding communities, Louisiana legislators continue to entertain oil and gas lobbyists. According to Dr. Robert Bullard, “what we have is energy apartheid, where poor communities and poor communities of color are still getting the dirtiest of the dirty energy.” As a result, Louisiana currently ranks second-worst among U.S. states when examining a wide range of environmental indicators and has the fifth highest cancer mortality in the country.  

There are over 150 different chemical plants located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. These factories are only required to be 500-feet from neighborhood homes, so residents are directly exposed to cancer causing toxins. Children in many parishes along “Cancer Alley” are even required to bring respirators to school in order to breathe properly.While the Louisiana Tumor Registry refuses to release the cancer rates of the towns along “Cancer Alley,” residents have done independent studies amongst themselves, which estimate that one in five people in their communities will die from cancer. The areas that are most affected by pollutants have predominantly African-American residents, whose unprecedented number of cancer diagnoses continues to grow. One’s home is supposed to be a place of comfort and safety, yet in these neighborhoods, home is a place associated with toxins and disease.

Since industrial plants release an abundance of toxins into the air, people living within these communities have higher than average dioxin levels in their blood. Increased dioxin levels have led to higher rates of infant mortality, respiratory problems, cancerous tumors, and a myriad of other health problems amongst these communities. The effects of the oil and gas industries on the environment are undeniable in St. James Parish. This is a majority African-American and working-class community has been continually chosen as the location of new petrochemical facilities. According to Eve Butler, a resident of this district, “in 2016, I was caught in the rain, and my face peeled from the chemicals. It was like a really bad sunburn.” Eve was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later and is currently too sick to return to work. Despite the evidence of acid rain and frequent cancer diagnoses, St. James Parish has been approved for a new methanol production facility in 2020.

Due to the influx of petrochemical facilities in St. James Parish, many residents have to move to find safer homes. However, property values in St. James Parish have plummeted due to its deteriorating environmental conditions. Houses that are closest to the industrial plants are often worth significantly less than the parish average. In some cases, buy-out offers provided compensation for residents who lived too close to a petrochemical facility. However, according to a St. James Parish resident, “while white residents sold their properties and moved away, black residents did not receive buy-out offers, we were left inhaling the toxic air produced by the invading petrochemical plants.” As a result, many African-American and working-class residents are forced to stay in these toxic homes because they cannot afford to move.This discriminatory policy shows how this environmental issue is also one of housing justice because some residents were not given the same opportunities as others to leave the toxic environment, 

In order to eliminate the environmental racism that takes place throughout the state, it is necessary to hold lawmakers accountable by demanding increased environmental regulations and less petrochemical facilities in Louisiana. Because everyone deserves to be safe and healthy in their home.

Celebrating a win for tax abatement to fight gentrification

Posted on 23. Jul, 2019 by in Blog

Last month, the Louisiana State Legislature approved a pair of bills, SB 79 and SB 80, that are designed to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. The passage of these bills, under the leadership of Senator Troy Carter, is a big win for fair housing.  But because changes to tax policy in Louisiana require a constitutional amendment, it still needs voter approval via state ballot in October.

A lack of affordable housing continues to plague New Orleans, as a large number of workers – especially those in the tourism and hospitality industries – are overburdened by their housing costs. Recent research highlights a mismatch between wages earned and costs of owning or renting a home, where growth in costs far outpaces growth in wages. On average, those who make 75% less than the city’s median income pay only 25% less than median housing-related expenditures. Among other causes, the rise of Airbnb as alternative tourist lodging has accelerated the general trend of rising rents, most severely in neighborhoods adjacent to the French Quarter like Tremé, Central City, and the 7th Ward. These historically Black renter neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying to the point that low-income workers who have resided there for generations can no longer afford their homes. These residents are often the same people who create and maintain the tourism industry that attracts visitors from around the world. Affordable housing would preserve not just individuals’ livelihoods, but also the culture of New Orleans.

The citywide tax assessment that will be complete by the end of this year exacerbates concerns about rising home prices. The continuing spike in home prices since the last assessment in 2015 will mean increased tax assessments. Accordingly, residents in the most quickly-gentrifying neighborhoods have expressed fears that with higher tax bills, they’ll have no choice but to cut spending in other areas of life or will be pressed to sell their home entirely. The impact of new tax assessments, however, is still unclear and will depend largely on the approval of pending measures like tax-relief for long-time low-income homeowners.

If approved by voters this Fall, these bills will become an amendment to the state constitution  that will allow New Orleans to freeze or reduce property taxes for low-income homeowners and small-scale landlords who want to keep or create affordable units. Ultimately, this is an efficient route to increasing affordable housing stock in a unique fashion that helps both renters and homeowners without the complications of reliance on federal funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). It is clear that unique approaches are needed: a call for at least 1,500 more affordable units in New Orleans last year was answered with just 84 units built.

Both fair housing advocates and government officials agree that this is a practical way to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. It presents an opportunity for long-term residents to build and maintain wealth in historically neglected neighborhoods that are at risk of gentrification-driven displacement. Most importantly, tax relief is a measure that directly benefits suffering residents who need support to continue to afford their homes.

One step closer to effective short-term rental regulations

Posted on 12. Jul, 2019 by in Blog

After three years of debate and pressure from advocates, neighbors, and city planners to better regulate short term rentals (STR) in New Orleans, the City Planning Commission (CPC) recently voted to endorse the newest STR study – a hopeful step towards passing an effective set of regulations by the July 25th Council meeting. Per the request of City Council, this study considered the provision of several exemptions to the new set of proposed STR regulations but generally rejected them, asserting that the regulations must be given a chance to work before they can be adequately modified.

Last month, the City Council proposed a set of stricter STR regulations championed by Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer, which address and validate claims that STRs are inherently destructive to the residential fabric of neighborhoods. The new changes would re-write the city’s permissive STR code implemented in 2016, most drastically altering the STR landscape by prohibiting a single operator from having more than one STR residential permit and requiring that the operator reside on the same property. This would effectively eliminate thousands of STR listings that fall into the “temporary license” type, previously the easiest to qualify for and thus most pervasive in the city. As that proposal moved forward, some Councilmembers also requested further study of the potential benefits of STRs as economic development tools in certain neighborhoods and whether exemptions to the one-permit-per-person rule could spur development in those areas. 

The study was presented and opened up for public comment at a CPC meeting on June 25th.

CPC staff began by summarizing the study, which – in addition to evaluating the creation of an Economic Development Incentive STR Zone – discusses increasing the cap on the number of commercial STRs in a corridor, and the possibility of “grandfathering” existing temporary license holders. On these concerns, it concludes that regulations should be implemented in their baseline form before being watered down or before the Council adds any exceptions. It points to peer cities with even stricter restrictions and finds little relationship between STR presence and local commercial activity. Most firmly, it argues against a grandfather provision: the “temporary license” was designed to be short-lived by definition.

A host of passionate advocates, professionals, and community leaders backed the study’s recommendations and urged CPC to keep moving forward in establishing regulations that address STRs’ harmful spillover into the acceleration of gentrification and exacerbation of the city’s affordable housing crisis. Speakers told anecdotes of watching their tourist “neighbors” take an Uber from their STR to Bourbon Street without stopping to explore the neighborhood or patronize neighborhood businesses. Some argued that STRs can never equitably function as a development incentive. On grandfathering, Breonne DeDecker of Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative reminded the CPC that its role is to promote policies that protect its citizens, not the investments of speculators.A motion to endorse the study’s recommendations was passed unanimously by the commissioners. CPC’s support of this study puts the new regulations in a good position to be formally approved at the July 25th Council meeting, which will significantly shrink the scope of STRs in New Orleans, hopefully to the benefit of residents. 

HUD Proposes Cutting Back LGBTQ+ Discrimination Protections as Pride Month Begins

Posted on 08. Jun, 2019 by in Blog


Source: The National Center for Transgender Equality

On May 23rd, one week before the start of Pride Month, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced their proposal to roll back the protections granted by the Equal Access Rule, which requires federally-funded shelters to house residents in shelters that match their own gender identity.

The proposed changes would let shelter providers use “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, any relevant considerations under civil rights and non-discrimination authorities, the individual’s sex as reflected on court document, as well as the gender which person identifies with” to determine where to house residents.    

Sunu P. Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, notes that “a person’s outdated identification documents, or someone else’s religious views” could be used to dictate their sex, directly contradicting HUD’s responsibility to ensure that “every person participating in [their] programs has equal access to them without being arbitrarily excluded.” The change would allow a sex-segregated shelter, for example, to house a transgender person on the basis of the sex inaccurately listed on their outdated ID card rather than their accurate, personal identification — the type of situation that HUD has in the past cited as potentially unsafe for transgender individuals.  

When introducing the “Final Equal Access Rule” in 2016, HUD explicitly mentioned that their motivation for the rule’s introduction was, in part, the evidence provided by homeless service providers, who found that “transgender persons are often discriminatorily excluded from shelters or face dangerous conditions in the shelters that correspond to their sex assigned at birth”.

An estimated 20-40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ+, and 20% of transgender Americans have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.This is a striking disparity: among the entire US population, just under 2% were homeless in 2018.  

The 2015 US Transgender Survey found that 70% of the transgender respondents who reported staying in a shelter in 2014 reported mistreatment in the form of harassment, sexual or physical assault, or being kicked out, because they were transgender.  Furthermore, 26% of respondents who experienced homelessness in 2014 avoided staying in a shelter altogether for fear of such mistreatment.  

Evidence clearly shows that the LGBTQ+ community faces homelessness and resultantly relies on shelters at a much higher rate than the general American public.  At the same time, this community experiences unparalleled levels of unequal, discriminatory treatment when engaging with these necessary services. Housing and civil rights advocates across the country have spoken out against the proposal that would only allow increased discrimination against an already vulnerable population, and call on HUD to “re-commit itself to its critically important mission”.

If you would like to keep up to date on this issue as well as other current fair housing issues, click here to sign up for GNOFHAC’s Action Alerts! 

Welcome our 2018 Summer Interns and Law Clerks!

Posted on 13. Jun, 2018 by in Blog

 

Madeline Aruffo is a third-year law student at Tulane University School of Law. Prior to law school, Madeline attended Boston University, and double majored in philosophy and psychology. She has a passion for housing equality and public interest law, and loves living in New Orleans. 

 

 

Cameron Bertron is the president of her second-year class at Tulane University Law School and serves on the executive board of the Entertainment and Art Law Society.  She grew up in North Florida and worked in film production in New York City before attending law school. Bertron earned her BFA from Florida State University.

 

 

   

Christopher Kerrigan is a second-year law student at Loyola New Orleans College of Law. Mr. Kerrigan previously served as a City Councilmember in Eureka, California from 2000-2008. Mr. Kerrigan has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Humboldt State University and and Masters of Science in Political Psychology from Queen’s University Belfast. He also enjoys playing tennis.

 

 

Maya Newman is an undergraduate at Tulane University, majoring in Sociology and Social Policy and minoring in Public Health. She became passionate about fair housing policy as an intern at the New Orleans Mission, where she assisted formerly homeless people with their housing searches. Maya is excited to promote the right to safe, affordable, and fair housing for all in Louisiana. 

 

 

Aviv Rau is a senior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she studies Sociology and American Studies. Outside of the classroom, Aviv is engaged with Connecticut’s labor rights movement and co-hosts a podcast called Unwind the Line. An Atlanta native, Aviv is excited to spend the summer in New Orleans interning with GNOFHAC’s Education and Outreach department. 

 

 

Patrick Wroe, originally from Austin, Texas, is interning this summer with GNOFHAC through the Leadership in Educational Equity Summer Fellowship, in partnership with Teach for America. After graduating from Tulane University with a degree in finance, he joined Arthur Ashe Charter School as a 7th grade Special Education teacher and spent the past two years in the classroom ensuring his students received quality education. Patrick is excited to join GNOFHAC this summer and support the policy and advocacy work on fair housing issues throughout Louisiana.

 

Best Friends Day: Fair Housing and Assistance Animals

Posted on 08. Jun, 2018 by in Blog

June 8th is National Best Friends Day. For many, their best friend is their pet; for some, their furry friend isn’t just a pet, but an animal that provides necessary assistance or service they need due to a disability. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to make reasonable and necessary accommodations to people with disabilities, including allowing a service or assistance animal. 

An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. For example, an assistance animal could be a cat that alleviates the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Any animal can be an assistance animal (as long as it it necessary and reasonable) and a housing provider must accept a letter from a doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or someone familiar with the disability as proof of the need for an assistance animal.

A service animal is a dog or pony that is trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability. For example, a service animal could be a guide dog, or a dog that can detect blood sugar changes in a person with diabetes and warn them if their blood sugar gets too high or too low. If the need for a service animal is not obvious, a housing provider may ask: (1) is this a service animal that is required because of a disability? and (2) what work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Housing providers cannot charge a pet fee or pet deposit, or enforce breed or size restrictions, for a service or assistance animal. If your housing provide has denied your request for an accommodation due to a disability, such as allowing you to have an assistance or service animal, call the GNO Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100.

How you can get involved

Posted on 30. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Today is the last day of Fair Housing Month, but our work for fair housing continues throughout the year. Here’s how you can get involved and continue to fight discrimination and segregation across Louisiana:

  1. Donate to GNOFHAC on Give NOLA Day 

    On Tuesday, May 1st, every dollar donated to New Orleans non-profits through givenola.org will be boosted by extra funds from the Give NOLA Lagniappe Fund. The goal of Give NOLA Day is to inspire the community to come together to support the work of local nonprofit organizations. GNOFHAC is the only full-service fair housing center in Louisiana, and your donation will fight for those who’ve been harassed, turned down or evicted because of who they are. Schedule your donation now!

  2. Sign-up for action alerts

    Our action page can help you stay engaged on all the issues that matter to you.  Please use this page to find and track legislation, look up your lawmaker, register to vote, and access tools you need to build a more inclusive community. Subscribe to our email list to stay up-to-date on GNOFHAC policy initiatives and community events.

  3. Become a tester

    Testers, also known as “mystery shoppers,” are people in the community who take on the role of a perspective homeowner or renter to help fair housing centers investigate discrimination. Testing involves using people with similar profiles, but who differ in one protected characteristic, such as race or family status. Testers need a flexible schedule and they are provided with a small stipend. 

  4. Invite GNOFHAC to do a fair housing training at your organization or school

    GNOFHAC provides trainings tailored to the needs of your organization. Participants of these trainings include landlords, real estate agents, management staff, mental health service providers, tenants, neighborhood associations, and many more. We also conduct fair housing workshops for students in grades K-8. Learn more about The Fair Housing Five and the Haunted House, GNOFHAC’s original children’s book that tells the story of kids who take action in their neighborhood in response to a landlord who is discriminating. It is designed to initiate conversations between parents, caregivers, teachers and children about housing discrimination, systemic inequality, and the important role that we all have in ending both.

     

Our 6th Annual Community Crawfish Boil

Posted on 26. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Our 6th Annual Community Crawfish Boil was a success! Thank you to everyone who joined us in celebrating Fair Housing Month and the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. We appreciate all of your support!