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Civil Rights Groups File Federal Lawsuit Against Deutsche Bank Over Racial Discrimination in New Orleans and Baton Rouge

Posted on 01. Feb, 2018 by in News

Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), in partnership with the National Fair Housing Alliance, and 18 other civil rights groups accuse the bank of neglecting foreclosures in communities of color 

WASHINGTON, D.C. and New Orleans, LA — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), GNOFHAC, and 18 fair housing organizations from across the country filed a housing discrimination lawsuit in federal district court in Chicago, IL against Deutsche Bank; Deutsche Bank National Trust; Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas; Ocwen Financial Corp.; and Altisource Portfolio Solutions, Inc. Ocwen and Altisource are the servicer and property management company responsible for maintaining and marketing a large number of Deutsche Bank’s properties.

NFHA is filing this lawsuit on the first day of Black History Month to highlight how neglected bank-owned homes hurt African American communities. The lawsuit alleges that Deutsche Bank purposely failed to maintain its foreclosed bank-owned homes (also known as real estate owned or “REO” properties) in middle- and working-class African-American and Latino neighborhoods in 30 metropolitan areas, while it consistently maintained similar bank-owned homes in white neighborhoods. The data presented in the federal lawsuit, which is supported by substantial photographic evidence, shows a stark pattern of discriminatory conduct by Deutsche Bank/Ocwen/Altisource in the maintenance of foreclosed homes. The negligent maintenance of homes in communities of color resulted in these homes having wildly overgrown grass and weeds, unlocked doors and windows, broken doors and windows, dead animals decaying, and trash and debris left in yards. Deutsche Bank/Ocwen/Altisource are paid and under contract to provide routine maintenance and marketing to these bank-owned homes. This includes regular lawn mowing, securing a home’s windows and doors, covering dryer vent holes and other holes to keep animals and insects from nesting, keeping the property free of debris, trash, branches and weeds, and complying with nuisance abatement ordinances in each city.

View photos of the properties and a map of affected communities at: http://nationalfairhousing.org/community-map/ 


Front/rear view of well-maintained Deutsche Bank property in a white neighborhood in New Orleans (left), contrasted with front/rear of a badly-maintained Deutsche Bank property in an African American neighborhood in New Orleans (right).

The lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation undertaken by NFHA and its fair housing agency partners beginning in 2010.  “We chose to first file administrative complaints with HUD against Deutsche Bank, expecting the bank to review our evidence and implement changes to secure, maintain, and market its bank-owned homes in communities of color to the same standard it did in white neighborhoods,” said Shanna L. Smith, President & CEO of NFHA. “However, even after meeting with Deutsche Bank’s legal counsel in April 2015 and sharing photographs illustrating the significant differences in treatment between homes in African American/Latino and white neighborhoods, we saw no improvement,” Smith continued. NFHA also met with representatives from Ocwen and Altisource and shared photographs of problems. No improvements with routine maintenance and marketing issues were identified following those meetings, so NFHA, GNOFHAC, and the 18 other fair housing agencies amended the HUD complaint to add these companies.

The lawsuit points out that Deutsche Bank-owned homes in predominantly white working- and middle-class neighborhoods are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly, invasive weeds and vines removed, windows and doors secured or repaired, litter, debris and trash removed, leaves raked, and graffiti erased from the property.  

“Deutsche Bank has shown that it can adequately maintain real estate in the white communities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, so it is only fair that homes in African American communities in those cities are maintained just as well,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “No one deserves to live next to an unsafe, unsightly structure, especially when its owner controls $1.6 trillion in assets but refuses to do simple maintenance.”

NFHA, GNOFHAC, and the 18 other fair housing agencies collected evidence at each property on over 35 data points that were identified as important to protecting and securing the homes.  Investigators also took and closely reviewed nearly 30,000 photographs of Deutsche Bank-owned homes to document the differences in treatment between communities of color and white neighborhoods.

NFHA and GNOFHAC conducted repeat visits to several Deutsche Bank-owned homes over the course of the investigation. However, investigators found little or no improvement in maintenance and often found the homes in worse condition.

The neglected appearance of Deutsche Bank-owned homes in middle- and working-class neighborhoods of color destroys the homes’ curb appeal for prospective homebuyers and invites vandalism because the homes appear to be abandoned. Additionally, the blight created by Deutsche Bank/Ocwen/Altisource results in a decline in home values for African American and Latino families who live next door or nearby, deepening the racial wealth gap and inequality in America. 

This is not a new problem for Deutsche Bank. In June 2013, Deutsche Bank, as trustee and owner of record of foreclosed homes, settled a lawsuit with the City of Los Angeles for $10 million after it was accused of allowing hundreds of foreclosed properties to fall into slum conditions, leading to the destabilization of whole communities. In the past, Deutsche Bank has taken the position that as a trustee of the loans that resulted in foreclosure, it has no legal obligation to maintain the properties once they come into Deutsche Bank’s possession. And yet, Deutsche Bank agreed to settle the City’s claims and required its preservation maintenance companies to pay most of the $10 million to resolve that case. Under the Fair Housing Act, trustees are clearly liable for discriminatory activity to the same extent as any other owner of property. 

NFHA alleges that Deutsche Bank, Ocwen, and Altisource’s intentional failure to correct their discriminatory treatment in African American and Latino neighborhoods—the same communities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis—can only be seen as systemic racism. Smith stated, “The intentional neglect of bank-owned homes in communities of color devalues the property and the lives of the families living in the neighborhoods around them. The health and safety hazards created by these blighted Deutsche Bank-owned homes affect the residents, especially the children, living nearby.” Smith continued, “It is important to note that Deutsche Bank, Ocwen, and Altisource were all paid to secure, maintain, and market these homes. No one is asking for special treatment of these bank-owned homes; we simply ask that these companies provide the same standard of care for all bank-owned homes, regardless of the racial or ethnic composition of the neighborhood in which they are located.”

In 2011, NFHA released the first of three reports documenting poor routine maintenance of foreclosed homes in African American and Latino neighborhoods as compared to foreclosures in white neighborhoods. Many photographs of badly-maintained bank-owned homes were shared. Each report recommended best practices to avoid Fair Housing Act violations. “We truly hoped the release of the reports, which included advice on how to comply with civil rights laws, would change the banks’ behavior,” said Smith. “However, only a few banks reached out for meetings to develop best practices, and Deutsche Bank was not one of them.” The second report was released in 2012 and the last one in 2014. 

The HUD complaint was filed and then amended to add additional cities and new evidence on the following dates: February 26, 2014; April 30, 2014; August 7, 2014; January 22, 2015; August 5, 2016; February 14, 2017; and July 26, 2017.

NFHA and its member agencies are represented by Soule, Bradtke & Lambert and Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC.

Detailed statistics and photographs are available at http://nationalfairhousing.org/community-map/

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status, as well as on the race or national origin of residents of a neighborhood. This law applies to housing and housing-related activities, which include the maintenance, appraisal, listing, marketing, and selling of homes. 

The fair housing organizations joining NFHA in filing the complaint include: 

HOPE Fair Housing Center
245 W. Roosevelt Road #107
West Chicago, IL 60185

Open Communities
614 Lincoln Avenue
Winnetka, IL 60093

South Suburban Housing Center
18220 Harwood Avenue
Homewood, IL 60430

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia
626 East Broad Street #400
Richmond, VA 23219

Toledo Fair Housing Center
432 North Superior Street
Toledo, OH  43604

Fair Housing Continuum
4760 N US Highway 1, Suite 203
Melbourne, FL 32935

Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center
404 S Jefferson Davis Pkwy 
New Orleans, LA 70119

Denver Metro Fair Housing Center
3280 Downing Street, Suite B 
Denver CO 80205

Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council
759 N Milwaukee Street, Suite 500
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Fair Housing Center of West Michigan
20 Hall Street SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center
505 Riverside Drive 
Dayton, OH 45405

The Housing and Research and Advocacy Center
2728 Euclid Avenue, Suite 200
Cleveland, OH 44115

Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches
1300 W Lantana Road, Suite 200 
Lantana, FL 33462

Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana
615 N Alabama Street, Suite 426
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Central Ohio Fair Housing Association
175 South 3rd Street, Suite 580 
Columbus, OH 43215

Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc.
11501 NW 2nd Avenue 
Miami, FL 33168

Connecticut Fair Housing Center
221 Main Street, 4th Floor
Hartford, CT 06106

North Texas Fair Housing Center
8625 King George Drive, Suite 130 
Dallas TX 75235

Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
1314 Lincoln Avenue, Suite A
San Rafael, CA 94901

 

The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported, in part, by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

Fair Housing Center Settles Case Against Louisiana State Fire Marshal After Judge Rules he Violated Fair Housing Laws Protecting People with Disabilities

Posted on 17. Oct, 2017 by in Blog, News

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) announced a settlement with the State Fire Marshal to ensure that the agency will no longer discriminate against people with disabilities. The plaintiffs in the case were Oxford House, Inc., a nationwide network of housing for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers; the owners of an Oxford House in Lake Charles; and a former Oxford House resident.

The case alleged that the State Fire Marshal’s refusal to allow seven women recovering from alcohol and substance abuse to live in a single-family home “as a family” constituted illegal housing discrimination. The Fire Marshal had instead sought to treat the home as a commercial rooming and boarding facility and require residents to install expensive upgrades or lose their home. If the Fire Marshal had prevailed, 105 other Oxford Houses in Louisiana would potentially have had to close their doors, causing 700 persons in the process of recovery to become homeless.

In July, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and against the Fire Marshal, finding that the Fire Marshal was obligated under federal anti-discrimination laws to accommodate the Oxford House residents. Federal law requires that reasonable accommodations be made for people with disabilities when necessary to ensure equal housing opportunity. Under the Fair Housing Act, residents of Oxford Houses are considered to be people with disabilities. 

Lori Holtzclaw, regional manager for Oxford Houses in Louisiana and Mississippi said, “As both a manager and a previous Oxford House resident, I know that the support of living together like a family is key to recovery—it’s no surprise the model has shown an 86% success rate in residents remaining sober.” She continued, “There is no reasonable fire safety justification for preventing adults from living together in a single-family home.”

The settlement announced today resolves the remaining issues in the federal lawsuit and ensures that the Office of the State Fire Marshall will put in place a process for reviewing accommodation requests, and–for the purposes of fire safety–treat Oxford Houses like any other single-family home.   

Cashauna Hill, GNOFHAC Executive Director, comments, “Especially in the midst of our state’s opioid epidemic, Oxford Houses are a much-needed resource in our communities. We’re grateful for the residents who moved forward with this case and helped safeguard protections for people with disabilities throughout Louisiana.”

GNOFHAC settled a similar case with the City of Baton Rouge in 2014 after a U.S. District Court ruled that the City should allow Oxford Houses to operate in areas zoned for single-family dwellings. 

Plaintiffs were represented by GNOFHAC attorneys Elizabeth Owen and Peter Theis, John N. Adcock, of the Law Office of John N. Adcock, and by Steven G. Polin of the Law Office of Steven G. Polin.

 

Fair Housing and Emotional Support Animals

Posted on 09. Feb, 2017 by in Blog

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to deny someone housing because they have a disability. The Fair Housing Act also says that everyone has the right to “fully use and enjoy” their home. People with disabilities are entitled to any necessary, reasonable modifications or accommodations they might need in order to fully use and enjoy their home.
Read More…

Stand with Fair Housing on GiveNOLA Day

Posted on 03. May, 2016 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar), Uncategorized

#FF0000 Raised $4,500 towards the $6,000 target.

Visit the Donation Station tonight between 4-7 to help us meet our goal!

Can’t make the event?  You can still join the movement by donating online here before midnight!

Fair Housing Center Applauds Council Members for Listening to Community Concerns; Urges Legislation

Posted on 12. Feb, 2015 by in News, Policy Updates

During a hearing of the Community Development Committee this afternoon, Councilmembers listened to the concerns of a broad array of community members about the widespread problem of poor conditions in New Orleans rental homes. Individuals and organizations including tenants and landlords testified about their frustrations with the current under-resourced and complaint driven system for code enforcement, along with the need for an affirmative inspection process for all rentals in the City.

Councilmembers Jason Williams and Latoya Cantrell have taken leadership to address longstanding problems with New Orleans rentals, most recently documented in a report issued by a group of community organizations. Though an ordinance has not yet been introduced, the Councilmembers and their staff have indicated that a citywide rental registry program would be most effective in maintaining a baseline standard of health and safety for renters, which make up over half of New Orleans’ population.

Testimony during the hearing painted a disturbing picture of the City’s rentals- Laura Tuggle of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services described a client who is visually impaired and lived in an apartment that had raw sewage running down the walls. There were also landlords present, like Roux Merlo, who voiced their support for an affirmative inspection process that will level the playing field for landlords that want to do right by their tenants.

James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, comments “Nearly every New Orleanian has a horror story when it comes to unsafe conditions in a rental home: calls to a landlord or 311 that were ignored when mold took over the bathroom, kitchen appliances that didn’t work for months, or a leaky roof that ended up ruining a treasured possession. Today’s hearing was a first step towards transforming a legacy of poor quality in many of the City’s rental homes. Now is the time for our leaders to take the next step and introduce legislation that establishes a rental registry that works for New Orleans.”

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Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a private nonprofit organization. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across the metro New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. The activities described in this release were privately funded.

Fair Housing Center Joins Rally at Supreme Court to Protect the Fair Housing Act

Posted on 21. Jan, 2015 by in News, Participate (for sidebar)

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Supreme Court will hear Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, a case that could threaten the long-standing legal theory of disparate impact, which has protected all Americans from discrimination for decades. James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), will join other advocates on the steps of the Supreme Court to rally in support of the disparate impact protection afforded by the Fair Housing Act.

The disparate impact protection requires that banks, landlords, and other housing providers should choose policies that apply fairly to all persons. Some policies that seem neutral in theory can unfairly exclude or segregate particular communities in practice. For example, an apartment complex could exclude applicants without full-time jobs- a policy that seems facially neutral. But such a policy has a disparate impact on people like disabled veterans or seniors who do not work full-time but may still afford an apartment.

Disparate impact makes it possible to recognize and prevent harmful and inequitable policies so that everyone is treated fairly.

The Supreme Court case focuses on Dallas, Texas, where the State of Texas approved the construction of affordable housing along racial lines, which reinforced residential segregation. For example, Texas allowed only three percent of the approved housing to be located in neighborhoods that are at least seventy percent white. The disparate impact protection has 45 years of legal precedent since the inception of the Fair Housing Act, including rulings by 11 different appellate courts across the country. Key GNOFHAC cases, including its decade-long legal battle with St. Bernard Parish, relied in part on the disparate impact theory.

In this case, the Inclusive Communities Project, an organization that seeks to further fair housing throughout Texas, is challenging the City of Dallas’ policy for allocating low-income-housing vouchers in a way that reinforced residential segregation. In response, the state of Texas is urging the justices to rule that disparate impact claims are not viable under the Fair Housing Act.

Today’s rally will be held from 9:00am-11:30am at the United States Supreme Court.

“This decision will not only profoundly impact housing choice for millions of Americans, but will shape our neighborhoods and communities for decades to come,” said James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, who will be attending the rally on behalf of GNOFHAC. “Especially in an era of subtle discrimination that is pernicious in its effects, it is imperative that the Court act to protect the legacy of Dr. King’s work to create equal housing opportunity for all by upholding disparate impact.”

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Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a private nonprofit organization. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across the metro New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. The activities described in this release were privately funded.

For Rent: Unsafe, Overpriced Home for the Holidays

Posted on 03. Dec, 2014 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar)

Today, a coalition of community organizations including GNOFHAC, the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA) and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) released a white paper that reveals the prevalence of unsafe and unhealthy conditions in the City’s rental homes, in spite of rapidly rising rents.  The data is coupled with stories of frustration from New Orleans renters, which indicate that there is no functional system to process complaints from tenants or inspect rental properties for basic standards of quality and safety.

For Rent: Unsafe, Overpriced Home for the Holidays CoverThe paper calls on City leaders to work together to find solutions and address the problem of poor rental conditions in New Orleans. It also notes a recent citywide survey revealed that voters of all stripes support improving the quality of rental housing in New Orleans. Read More…

New GNOFHAC Study Finds African American Renters Face High Rate of Discrimination in New Orleans Upscale Neighborhoods

Posted on 06. Nov, 2014 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar)

Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) released an audit study of housing discrimination against African Americans in New Orleans’ highest opportunity neighborhoods.

Audit infographicThe study, Where Opportunity Knocks the Doors Are Locked, found that African American mystery shoppers posing as prospective renters were either denied the opportunity to rent or received less favorable treatment than white mystery shoppers 44% of the time in New Orleans neighborhoods that offer high opportunity levels to families.

The study looks closely at what “high opportunity” means and how living in these communities is related to various aspects of one’s life. Read More…

Upcoming Mortgages and Natural Disasters Training

Posted on 02. Jul, 2014 by in Blog, Education News, Participate (for sidebar), Uncategorized, Upcoming Public Trainings

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 4.47.37 PMNext Monday, July 14th at 6:30 pm, GNOFHAC will partner with the Broadmoor Improvement Association and Evacuteers to present a course on Hurricane Preparedness.

GNOFHAC will give a presentation entitled Mortgages and Natural Disasters. This training covers information on how to prepare your home for a natural disaster and what steps to take after a natural disaster. The training wil be held at the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center, located at 4300 Broad St. Light refreshments will be provided. Contact Sophie Rosen at srosen@gnofairhousing.org or call her at 504-596-2100 ext. 109 for more information.

2014 Legislative Session Wrap Up

Posted on 05. Jun, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, News, Participate (for sidebar), Policy Statements, Policy Updates, Uncategorized

Crop State CapThe 2014 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature wrapped last week. GNOFHAC fought vigorously to pass legislation that would expand fair housing protections to the LGBT community and victims of domestic violence, enrolling the support of over 50 organizations statewide, dozens of legislators, and hundreds of individual supporters.

Ultimately, too many Louisiana legislators bowed to hate speech from gay rights opponents and caved in to pressure from the landlord lobby instead of voting to protect domestic violence victims. Proposed legislation was ultimately not passed this year.

However, the outpouring of support from concerned citizens contributed to a gain in new legislative champions and bill sponsors, increased fair housing education amongst legislators, and helped us build strength in a tough environment. We are inspired by the incredible support and excited about the vital connections we built with legislators and partners that will make our chances of success even greater when we return to the Capitol next year.

Thank you for supporting our work by signing petitions, making donations, sending letters to your legislators, and speaking up on behalf of those who need your help the most. Advocates for justice across the state fought some really tough battles this session, but we’ll be back next year. Stay tuned because we’ll need your help again!