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New Database Reveals an American Eviction Crisis

Posted on 19. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

San Francisco has passed laws to help teachers and families with school-aged children avoid evictions during the school year.

GNOFHAC fights for fair, affordable housing for all. Most people can get behind a mission like this – who doesn’t think that people and families should have access to housing they can pay for without breaking the bank, in safe neighborhoods with amenities like good schools and supermarkets that sell fresh food? The unfortunate reality, however, is that many people don’t have access to affordable housing at all, let alone housing in areas that provide opportunities for their families. More than twenty percent of Americans spend more than half of their monthly income on rent and utilities, with a quarter of those families spending more than seventy percent of their income on housing costs.

When a large portion of an individual’s or family’s income is allocated to housing, any additional, unplanned costs (like fixing a broken-down car or going to the hospital) can be devastating. Those unable to pay their rent are often evicted, a process which can have spiraling consequences: children must move schools; parents lose their jobs and face challenges applying for new ones without a permanent address; families lose access to food stamps and health benefits when they no longer reside at the address these notices are sent to.  

In short, while poverty is a common cause of evictions, evictions are also a cause of poverty, creating a feedback loop that can be almost impossible to escape.

A new database from Princeton University called the Eviction Lab, compiles the first ever public dataset of evictions in America going back to 2000, illustrating through numbers, and interactive graphs how America is facing an eviction crisis. Sociologist Matthew Desmond estimates that 2.3 million evictions were filed in 2016 at a rate of four per minute. In Louisiana, where the eviction rate clocks in at 2.54% (0.3% above the national average), almost 36 evictions happen per day. While eviction rates in New Orleans are below the national average, they jump to 5.49% in Slidell and 6.45% in Baton Rouge, which is ranked 19th nationally in terms of evictions.

When families are evicted, no one wins. In order to reduce the number of evictions in the United States, policy makers should make affordable housing a priority. If you’d like to learn more about this issue, check out the Eviction Lab website and Matthew Desmond’s revealing book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Immigration Status and the Fair Housing Act: What You Need to Know

Posted on 17. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 protects people from discrimination when they look to buy, rent, or secure financing for housing. The FHA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children. The FHA applies to everyone in the United States, regardless of their immigration status. If a landlord refuses to rent to someone, charges a higher price, or offers different terms on a mortgage because that person belongs to one of those protected groups, that is illegal discrimination regardless of immigration status. It is also illegal to request additional documents from a person based on their race, national origin, or membership in another protected group. This means that a landlord can request a credit check on potential tenants to make sure they’ll be able to pay rent, but only if they perform that check on every potential tenant, not just ones of a particular race or gender. Similarly, landlords are within their rights to ask for identity related documents, but only if they are requesting them from all applicants.

If you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination and you are undocumented, you should not hesitate to file a fair housing complaint. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (the body at the HUD which deals with issues related to the FHA) will not ask about or disclose your immigration status, and neither will the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

What happens if a landlord or neighbor is threatening to report you, a family member, or a friend to ICE in the event that you file a fair housing complaint? Unfortunately, this is where things can get more complicated. It is illegal to threaten or interfere with a person’s exercise of their FHA rights, so the person doing the threatening is breaking the law. However, when immigration authorities are involved, a certain level of apprehension is certainly justifiable.

According to a memorandum by former ICE Director John Morton in 2011, it is “against ICE policy to remove individuals in the midst of a legitimate effort to protect their civil rights or civil liberties” and “to avoid deterring individuals from reporting crimes and from pursuing actions to protect their civil rights, ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys are reminded to exercise all appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis when making detention and enforcement decisions in the case of victims of crime, witnesses to crime, and individuals pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints.” What this means is that if you are an undocumented victim of a crime, you should be protected from deportation or other legal action taken against you if you report that crime, as long as you yourself don’t have a criminal history.

In today’s political climate regarding immigration, it can be difficult to know how strictly ICE will stick to this policy on a case by case basis. If you come in contact with ICE as a result of reporting an FHA violation, it is important to be clear that you are attempting to protect your civil rights.  Regardless of your immigration status, please do not hesitate to report fair housing violations to GNOFHAC when you see them.

Environmental Racism in Louisiana

Posted on 12. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Topics like global warming and climate change can sometimes seem ambiguous and hazy – problems of the future whose full impact we can’t currently comprehend. As a result, it can be difficult to know what we as individuals can do in the here and now to protect the environment and the people living in it.

Some impacts of environmental damage are not nearly as nebulous as others, however. Pollution and environmental degradation are impacting people right here, right now, and these impacts tend to affect people of color and poor people disproportionately – a concept known as environmental racism. One well-known example of this is the dirty, lead-ridden water of Flint, Michigan, a city whose residents are mostly black and often poor. Switching Flint’s water source to the Flint River – the act which resulted in Flint’s water crisis – was a cost-cutting measure. Would the crisis in Flint have come about if it were a majority white city? What if it were a wealthy city?

A house lit up for Christmas next to a Murphy Oil Corporation factory in Meraux, Louisiana, a town in Cancer Alley.

Environmental racism isn’t just relegated to water pollution. It can rear its head in a variety of ways, and the state of Louisiana is a big offender. In Louisiana’s Cancer Alley (a stretch of land between New Orleans and Baton Rouge which is home to more than 150 plants and refineries), cancer rates jump high above the national average, and the majority of those affected are poor and historically black. The town of Diamond, for example, was founded by survivors of the largest slave revolt in US history in 1811, but its inhabitants had to be relocated by Shell after slogging through decades of exposure to toxic materials. Others, like the towns of Morrisonville and Sunrise that were originally founded by freed slaves hundreds of years ago, were completely bought out by petrochemical corporations, with residents paid to leave to make room for factories.  Residents of this area, who usually don’t have the resources to move out and whose protests are often ignored, can be made sick by the huge amount of toxins released by the petrochemical industry and other factories.

Claiborne just before the construction of the I-10 bridge.

Environmental justice issues don’t have to be centered around health – they affect all facets of people’s lives, including housing. In the 1960s, the I-10 bridge was built over Claiborne Avenue – a street once home to the longest single string of oak trees in the country and lined by well over a hundred businesses in the historically Black New Orleans neighborhood of Treme. After the bridge’s construction, property values were driven down and the number of businesses in the area dropped by about two-thirds. At the time, a similar highway had been proposed to run through the predominantly white French Quarter, but residents were able to prevent it’s construction. However, in the Treme in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, all objections to the I-10 bridge were ignored, with devastating consequences to the neighborhood’s culture and economy.

In New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, an entrenched history of housing discrimination means that predominantly Black neighborhoods bore a disproportionate brunt of the impacts of Hurricane Katrina. Since the Civil War, the government, banks, and realtors  “assigned” certain geographic areas to black people – areas which tended to be low-value and flood-prone, and which grew to become modern neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East which were hit heavily by the hurricane. As a result, 53 percent of black residents  reported they lost everything after Katrina, compared to only 19 percent of white residents. Black people were also significantly more likely to have faced life-threatening challenges in the wake of the storm. In the aftermath of Katrina, the Road Home Program was established in order to help New Orleans residents rebuild their homes. Homeowners were allocated grant money based on either their home’s market value or the cost to rebuild, whichever amounted to less. African American homeowners were much more likely to qualify for grants based on their homes’ market values, which often fell dramatically short of covering the cost to rebuild. GNOFHAC sued the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Louisiana Recovery Authority arguing that the Road Home Program discriminated based on race and the case reached a settlement for 62 million dollars. Road Home was successfully amended in 2011, but due to the discriminatory program that lasted six years after the storm, fewer African Americans were able to move back into the city than whites after Katrina.

Protesters in the room during city council vote on New Orleans East Entergy plant.

On March 13th, 2018, New Orleans City Council approved the construction of a $210 million natural gas power plant in a predominantly minority neighborhood and FEMA-designated flood zone in New Orleans East, despite protests from a coalition of New Orleans East residents, community activists, and environmental justice groups. The Entergy plant is meant to prevent power outages, but opponents cite the potentially harmful effects on the environment and public health while pointing out that Entergy’s reliability issues are related to distribution failures, not lack of power, and must be resolved internally – not by simply throwing money at the problem.  Though the plant has been approved, residents have vowed to continue to fight for the health and safety of their neighborhoods and opponents filed a lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that the council violated due process by not considering alternatives to the plant.

To stay up to date with this fight, visit www.nogasplant.com, and follow the plaintiffs in the case, groups that have spent almost two years protesting the idea of a new power plant: Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Sierra Club, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and 350-New Orleans.

Dr. King’s Fight for Open Housing

Posted on 03. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

When envisioning the Civil Rights Movement, many people probably think of Rosa Parks in Alabama, school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, or sit-ins in North Carolina. Northern cities are not usually the first to come to mind. The Open Housing Movement, however, was born not in the South, but in Chicago, Illinois.

Seminary student Jesse Jackson was put in charge of the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket. Source: Oxford African American Studies Center 

When Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) arrived in Chicago in 1966, racism and segregation were widespread, but so was grassroots activism. Organizations like the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, led by schoolteacher Albert Raby, worked to desegregate schools. Dr. King’s arrival on the scene brought national attention and exposure to a pervasive problem. The SCLC launched the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket, which won thousands of jobs for black people in the dairy, soda, and supermarket industries under the leadership of seminary student Jesse Jackson. Tenants’ unions cropped up in an effort to reveal inhumane living conditions in slums, and tenants engaged in rent strikes. When real estate firms attempted to evict the striking renters, legal support from the tenants’ unions made it impossible, and the firms were forced to negotiate.

In conjunction with the Chicago Freedom Movement (a campaign to bring civil rights activities to the north), Dr. King and the SCLC held rallies and peaceful protests outside real estate offices and in all-white neighborhoods. One such march turned violent when demonstrators were met with an angry white mob. The mob threw bottles and bricks, and Dr. King was hit by a rock. Of the experience, Dr. King said “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’m seeing in Chicago.”

Dr. King speaks with reporters during a demonstration against Balin Real Estate. Source: Oxford African American Studies Center

As the movement pushed forward, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley was eager to find a way to end the demonstrations and restore order. He met with Dr. King and other lead activists to work out a summit agreement, which culminated in the creation of one of the nation’s first fair housing organizations, the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. The summit also resulted in the Chicago Housing Authority promising to build some public housing units, and the Mortgage Bankers Association agreeing to make mortgages available regardless of race.

Despite the alleged success, the agreements made at the summit were barely enforced. Dr. King expressed his disappointment in this result just one year later, saying “it appears that for all intents and purposes, the public agencies have [reneged] on the agreement and have, in fact given credence to [those] who proclaim the housing agreement a sham and a batch of false promises.” After Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, riots broke out across the country. The public’s reaction to his death was so intense that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle felt they had no choice but to take action, if not to honor Dr. King’s mission then to pacify protestors. As a result, the Fair Housing Act was passed just one week later.


To learn more about the Chicago Open Housing Movement, check out the following links:

50 Years Ago, Martin Luther King Jr. Fought for Open Housing in Chicago

The Chicago Campaign

Seven Days Documentary

Operation Breadbasket

Mixing It Up: Fair Housing and the Smart Housing Mix Policy

Posted on 26. Feb, 2018 by in Blog

New Orleans is a city like no other in terms of its rich history and cultural individuality. Unfortunately, when it comes to ballooning housing costs, New Orleans falls in line with many other cities in America. As rents rise, the workers who make New Orleans what it is—such as musicians and those in the hospitality and tourism industries—are being forced to the periphery, resulting in fewer employment options, longer commutes, wasted resources, and increased traffic and parking congestion.

The Smart Housing Mix policy seeks to expand affordable housing in developing neighborhoods such as the CBD, Treme, and Mid-City by ensuring a percentage of new units are affordable for the average worker while also providing developers with incentives to build those units. For example, density bonuses would allow developers to build more units based on how many of those units are affordable—benefitting both those workers who are seeking housing and the developers who can then increase their rent revenues. Other incentives may include reductions in parking requirements, expedited permitting, and tax abatements. Units would not just be affordable at the time of move-in, but would remain that way for a minimum of fifty subsequent years.

A 2017 study by the New Orleans City Planning Commission suggested improvements to the policy, such as increasing the area of the city where the policy would apply (counting on developers to voluntarily “opt in” has proven to have disappointing results). The report also recommended increasing incentives so that developers are more likely to allocate units for tenants whose income is 60% or below the neighborhood’s area median income (AMI).

Inclusionary housing policies similar to the proposed New Orleans Smart Housing Mix have been successful in cities across the country, from Fairfax County, Virginia to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In Breckenridge, Colorado—a ski resort community whose economy relies heavily on tourism—the high demand for luxury homes made it difficult in the past for low-wage workers to be able to afford rent. In the late 90s, however, a “Workforce Housing” program analogous to the Smart Housing Mix policy was instituted, and today almost a third of Breckinridge’s permanent residents live in these affordable housing units. As a city with a thriving tourism industry, New Orleans would benefit from a similar model.

The 2017 study produced by the City Planning Commission is a step in the right direction for the New Orleans Smart Housing Mix Policy, but in order for Smart Housing to come to fruition, the New Orleans City Council must pass an ordinance turning the idea into a reality.

If you believe affordable housing is important, now is the time to contact your city councilperson and tell them that you support the implementation of a Smart Housing Mix Policy in New Orleans.