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14 Years After Katrina: New Orleans Continues the Fight Against Displacement

Posted on 06. Sep, 2019 by in Blog

Last week marks 14 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and forever changed the Gulf Coast. Since that time, New Orleanians have continued to create opportunities for the city and its legendary sense of community to flourish. However, there are still many residents who are finding themselves being pushed out of their homes and losing access to the city they helped to build. 

What’s happening in New Orleans is the result of policies that may have been well-intentioned, but resulted in perpetuating inequity. For instance, the federally-funded Road Home rebuilding program gave homeowners grants that were based on the pre-storm value of their damaged home, rather than on the cost to rebuild.  Because the grant formula failed to take into account the effects of redlining and residential segregation, homeowners in predominately white neighborhoods had homes that were valued higher than the homes that were similar in size and age in predominantly African American neighborhoods. Due in part to the discriminatory nature of the grant formula, 70 percent of long-term white residents were able to return to New Orleans within a year, but only 42 percent of long-term black residents were able to do the same.

Fourteen years after the storm, displacement in New Orleans continues. Long-term residents are being pushed out of neighborhoods due to a variety of factors, including increases in rent and property taxes, driven in part by the proliferation of short-term rentals and the rise in gentrification.  

Despite the grim parts of New Orleans’ recovery, there are positive developments. This summer, New Orleans took a big step toward regulating short-term rentals. Starting in December, STR operators will be required to reside on the property that is being rented in residentially-zoned areas of the city, which is designed to stop the practice of out-of-state speculators turning several homes into short-term rentals that can no longer house long-term New Orleanians. 

Additionally, the Housing Authority of New Orleans has partnered with a private developer to bring a mixed-income development to the Bywater, a neighborhood with one of the highest post-Katrina rates of African-American displacement.  The proposed development will bring 82 deeply affordable housing units in a neighborhood that has gentrified and is now one of the most well-resourced in the city.

14 years after the storm, the fight to keep New Orleanians in New Orleans continues. As we celebrate the recent steps the city has taken to combating displacement, we also remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and pledge to continue to work to keep New Orleans a home to those who made it great.

Know Your Rights for Back to School: Searching for Housing When You Have an Emotional Support Animal

Posted on 16. Aug, 2019 by in Blog

Searching for housing when you come back to school – whether in the dorm or off-campus – can be a stressful process, especially if you are someone who has an emotional support animal (ESA) because of a disability. An ESA is an animal that provides emotional support that alleviates symptoms or effects of a disability. One example could be a cat whose presence reduces the symptoms of depression or anxiety in their owner. While any animal can be an assistance animal (as long as it is both necessary and reasonable), the majority are dogs or cats. These animals play an important role in the lives of many who rely on their support, but many tenants unfortunately still experience hardship and discrimination when looking for housing with an ESA.

Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to make reasonable and necessary accommodations for people with disabilities, which includes allowing a service animal or emotional support animal even if they usually have a no pets policy or other restrictions on animals. Housing providers are not allowed to charge a pet fee or pet deposit, or to enforce breed or size restrictions, for a service or emotional support animal. Unfortunately, GNOFHAC still frequently sees individuals with ESAs being denied housing outright, being required to pay large pet fees or deposits, or even being mocked by housing providers who question their disability and if they really need an ESA. A housing provider must accept a letter from a doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or similar provider who is familiar with the disability and the support that the animal provides as proof of the need for an assistance animal.

Whether you are moving into a dorm or an apartment, if your housing provider has denied your request for an accommodation due to a disability, such as allowing you to have an emotional support animal, call the GNO Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100. Help is free and confidential.

Fighting the Battle for Housing for Veterans

Posted on 24. May, 2019 by in Blog

This memorial day, as we take time to remember those who lost their lives in combat, here at GNOFHAC we are thinking about those who come back from serving in the military and then have to begin the battle of finding a home to live in.

            Despite the financial security the military once offered, today’s veterans are 5% less likely then the average American to be able to afford their housing costs, putting Louisiana’s 284,074 veterans at risk of housing insecurity. In Louisiana, 25% of veterans are living with a disability connected to their service and, while denying someone housing because of a disability is illegal under the Fair Housing Act, disability discrimination continues to harm our communities. Whether this discrimination happens through an outright denial, or through a housing provider’s unwillingness to grant a reasonable accommodation or modification, veterans are especially vulnerable to disability discrimination.

            Even veterans who don’t actually have any disabilities still face discrimination because of perceived disability. Housing providers who hold onto stereotypes and judgments about combat veterans impact all veterans—not just those who are living with disabilities. When housing providers refuse to rent to anyone who served in the military, families across the country are denied the opportunity of safe and stable housing.

Disability under the Fair Housing Act is any physical or mental condition that limit’s someone’s life activities—so whether someone requires a ramp or other modification because of a physical injury, a service or emotional support animal to assist with PTSD or anxiety, or pays their rent with Veteran Disability Compensation—housing providers are never allowed to deny housing because of a disability.

If you are a veteran with a disability who has experienced housing discrimination or believe you have been denied housing because of a perceived disability, please call The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100.

Advocates Praise Veto of Inclusionary Zoning Preemption Bill, Look Forward to Local Action

Posted on 29. May, 2018 by in Blog, News, Uncategorized

Baton Rouge—On Saturday, Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed SB 462, a bill that would have banned cities and parishes from using zoning rules to create housing that is affordable to the average worker. Housing advocates, the City of New Orleans, the City of Baton Rouge, and the Louisiana Municipal Association, among others, all opposed the bill.

While Sen. Danny Martiny sponsored SB 462 in this year’s legislative session, Sen. Conrad Appel carried identical legislation in 2017 that also failed. In the Greater New Orleans area, where both senators are from, high housing prices are pushing many working families out to the suburbs. A family must make $49,360–significantly more than the median household income of $37,000–to afford a modest three-bedroom apartment in the metro area.

In over 800 cities across the country, municipalities use inclusionary zoning policies—which SB 462 would have banned—to ensure workers can continue to live close to their jobs. The policies ensure that a percentage of new housing units are priced to be available to the average worker and offer real estate developers economic incentives in return. In Louisiana, such a policy would benefit hospitality workers, firefighters, teachers, and others who all make average salaries of below $40,000 per year. 

In his veto message, the Governor encouraged local governments to take advantage of the policy and implement inclusionary zoning policies in the near future. In 2017, the City of New Orleans began to seriously consider inclusionary zoning, known locally as the Smart Housing Mix policy. Mayor Cantrell and a number of Councilmembers committed their support for the Smart Housing Mix during the campaign season. Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s transition plan also suggested the City-Parish explore the policy. 

Throughout the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, a single real estate developer group led the charge to strip inclusionary zoning powers away from local governments. During committee hearings, housing advocates pointed out that real estate developers have benefited from millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives, but continue to stand in staunch opposition to local solutions like the Smart Housing Mix. 

“We’re grateful to the Governor for choosing the working families who make our cities run over wealthy real estate developers,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). “Now we look forward to working with local officials to pass and implement the Smart Housing Mix policy so that workers can continue to live and thrive in our cities,” she continued. 

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

Legislature Passes New Law Penalizing Bad Landlords and Assisting Renters in Recovering Security Deposits

Posted on 14. May, 2018 by in Blog, News

Baton Rouge—Last Friday, Senate Bill 466 cleared its last legislative hurdle when it passed the Louisiana House. SB 466 finally provides a real chance of recovering security deposits from negligent landlords to the 1.5 million Louisianans who rent. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) led the advocacy efforts for this change because most renters never expect to see their deposit again, even when they do everything right. Under current law, landlords only face a slap on the wrist for unlawfully keeping deposits.

During the bill’s first hearing, LSU law student Jourdan Curet explained that when the management began to let her Baton Rouge townhome fall into disrepair, she gave notice and asked for her security deposit back after moving. Her unit was still in good condition when she left, but after multiple requests—including with the help of her mother’s law firm—she had still not seen a dollar of her $500 deposit. “Even if I took my landlord to small claims court and won, I’m sure he’d continue keeping deposits because most students don’t have the knowledge, time, or resources to file in small claims and the penalty was negligible for him either way,” said Curet. “I know I have access to more resources than most renters, so I’m elated that we’ve finally created some fairness in this part of the law,” she continued.

Photo: Jourdan Curet posing with a fake check for what she would have spent her deposit it on, if it had been returned.

SB 466, carried by Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales, increases the penalty to bring it into line with national standards. When the new law goes into effect on August 1, 2018, renters who win their case can recover three times as much as typically awarded under current law. For a Louisiana renter who spends roughly $800 on a security deposit, the amount recovered from a negligent landlord would increase to $2,400.

“A higher penalty might have created some incentive for my landlord to return my deposit,” said Aimee Struble, a self-employed house painter in New Orleans. “Instead, it took being lucky enough to find pro-bono counsel and two years to get to court to finally recover any damages.” Struble was renting from a large real estate developer and had to leave after a roof leak and mold damaged most of her belongings.

Photo: Aimee Struble posing with a fake check for what she would have spent her deposit it on, if it had been returned.

This new law is the culmination of four years of work at the Legislature, starting with a 2014 Senate resolution that acknowledged renters in Louisiana have few rights and called for a comparison of state landlord-tenant law to national standards.

Further study found that Louisiana security deposit law had not been updated since 1985 and was notably out of step with surrounding states. After initial opposition by landlord lobbying groups in 2017 and during the 2018 legislative session, GNOFHAC, legal experts, and landlord groups agreed to increase penalties for landlords who do not follow the law. The final bill passed out of committees in both houses with the unanimous support of lawmakers.

“Loyola Law Clinic routinely represents low-income renters whose landlords have stolen their security deposits. Even after winning a lawsuit, the most renters usually receive back under the old law is the stolen deposit. For bad actors, that was no disincentive. Low-income people cannot easily access attorneys or the courts. Without deposit funds, there is a struggle to secure new housing. The new law is a step in the right direction for Louisiana renters and for our communities,” said Davida Finger, a Loyola University College of Law professor who helped craft the reforms in the bill.

“Anyone who has rented in Louisiana knows the law is stacked against you. As families across the state see increases in college tuition, health insurance, and other expenses, we’re grateful to see the state offer this measure of economic relief to Louisiana’s 1.5 million renters,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of GNOFHAC. The results of GNOFHAC’s own survey showed that most renters would have used their deposits for their next apartment or to pay off bills, had the deposits been returned.

 

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

Red Lines and Keep Out Signs: 300 Years of Discrimination, Divestment & Displacement In New Orleans

Posted on 24. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Amidst the excitement of celebrating New Orleans’ tricentennial, GNOFHAC is taking a look at 300 years of housing policy and housing segregation in New Orleans.

New Orleans is a special place that is rich with culture and tradition but, like many cities in the United States, New Orleans also has deep racial divides. The Data Center’s new article, “Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk,” lays out how the segregation that we see today is rooted in discriminatory housing policies and practices that are as old as the city.

From only allowing wealthy white settlers to build above sea level (therefore denying African American communities access to housing that doesn’t face environmental risk), to racially discriminatory zoning policies, to restrictive covenants that stated in the deeds for homes that they could only be sold to white families, New Orleans’ history helps us understand the persistence of housing segregation today.

Policy decisions made during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina further deepened these inequalities. New Orleans had a unique opportunity to reverse many of the long-standing patterns of residential racial segregation using the billions of recovery dollars the city received to rebuild. However, instead local, state and federal policy makers chose policies that “repeated or amplified existing patterns of separation and inequality.” One such example was the Road Home program which based grant amounts on pre-storm market value rather than the actual cost to rebuild. As a result, residents in majority white, wealthier neighborhoods were able rebuild while African American homeowners with lower property values found it difficult to return home.

Now, as we welcome a new city council and mayor to office, we must continue to push for policies that say no to segregation and encourage inclusion.

To learn more, join GNOFHAC for a panel discussion about the findings of the new Data Center report, Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk, on April 26th from 6-8pm at Propeller Incubator, 4035 Washington Ave.

National Insurer Settles Case Alleging Discrimination Against Housing Choice Voucher Participants

Posted on 19. Apr, 2018 by in Blog, News

New Orleans—National insurer Covington Special Insurance Company (Covington) has agreed to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit filed by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and a local landlord. The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana in September 2017, alleged that Covington discriminated on the basis of race, sex, and familial status by denying liability insurance to New Orleans landlords who accept tenants utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers (informally known as “Section 8” vouchers). 

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program provides housing subsidies to low-income families seeking housing in the private rental market. The complaint alleged that the Covington’s policy had the effect of making it harder for HCV households—who are disproportionately African American, female-headed, and families with children—to access housing. The complaint also alleged that the insurer’s discriminatory policies disproportionately affected predominately African-American neighborhoods in New Orleans, where HCV households are highly concentrated. 

GNOFHAC and Dr. Andre Baugh were plaintiffs in the litigation. The litigation arose after Covington Specialty Insurance Company canceled Dr. Baugh’s liability policy because he disclosed that HCV families occupied five of his eight rental units. A local agent explained to Dr. Baugh that Covington was “not in the business of doing Section 8.” Covington is based in New Hampshire and operates as a subsidiary the Alleghany Corporation, a national publicly traded investment company with a focus on property and casualty insurance. After finally securing insurance from another insurer at a higher rate, Dr. Baugh contacted GNOFHAC, which undertook significant public education and outreach efforts to counteract the insurers’ discriminatory policies.

The complaint alleged that Covington’s discriminatory policy was based on stereotypes about voucher holders, rather than any particular risk analysis. Despite such negative stereotypes, New Orleans data shows HCV households are far less transient than market-rate renters. According to U.S. Census and HUD data, 22% of all New Orleans renter households moved in the last year compared to only 7% of HCV families, who stay in their units for an average of seven years.

As a result of the settlement, Covington will stop considering individuals’ source of income when determining pricing or eligibility for property or commercial liability insurance sold to owners of private rental properties. In addition, Covington will no longer ask owners whether they rent to HCV households. Covington agreed to pay $160,000 to compensate plaintiffs for their damages and attorneys fees. 

“Stereotypes and assumptions are simply not a valid reason to perpetuate segregation or deny families housing,” said GNOFHAC Executive Director, Cashauna Hill. “We commend Dr. Baugh for coming forward with this complaint and encourage anyone else who suspects they may have been a victim of housing discrimination to contact the Fair Housing Action Center.”

Plaintiffs separately reached a settlement with Covington’s local broker, Hull & Company, which issued and administered Dr. Baugh’s policy with Covington.

The Plaintiffs were represented by Relman Dane and Colfax PLLC, GNOFHAC’s Legal Director, Elizabeth Owen, and Galen Hair of Scott, Vicknair, Hair & Checki.