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Raise Your Voice to Secure Housing Discrimination Protections

Posted on 17. Oct, 2019 by in Blog

In August, we let you know about a long-standing civil rights protection known as “Disparate Impact” that is currently under attack by the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The disparate impact theory has been used to prove housing discrimination claims since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and despite having enjoyed bi-partisan support for more than 50 years, HUD is proposing to change the rule and make it nearly impossible to challenge discriminatory practices that are not blatant or explicit.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Disparate Impact is an important tool in fighting segregation and racial isolation. However, HUD’s proposed rule would require explicit proof of discrimination (not just proof of the discriminatory effect), provide special protections for businesses that use algorithms, and seems to lay the foundation for exempting the insurance industry from disparate impact liability.

What this change would mean, is that future discriminatory laws and policies would be harder to fight. The Disparate Impact legal theory is at the heart of dozens of cases that have protected Louisiana residents. Most notable among them is GNOFHAC’s case that secured $62 million in relief for families across South Louisiana harmed by the Road Home’s discriminatory funding formula. While the policy of offering rebuilding grants based on the pre-storm value of a home, rather than the cost to rebuild, seemed neutral, it resulted in homeowners in white neighborhoods receiving higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar.

Without Disparate Impact, we also might not have been able to stop St. Bernard Parish’s 2006 “blood relative” ordinance preventing property owners from renting to anyone but blood relatives. In addition, Disparate Impact was pivotal in protecting survivors of domestic violence from eviction because of the actions of an abuser.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to tell HUD that Disparate Impact needs to stay. GNOFHAC is working with national groups to collect as many comments opposing the rule as possible before Friday, October 18th. To make a comment and make your voice heard, visit


Posted on 11. Oct, 2019 by in Blog

New Orleans is in the throes of a housing crisis. Much of GNOFHAC’s work in recent years has been to fight displacement and make sure that New Orleans is a community where long-term residents can stay and thrive. We’ve seen renters pushed out of their homes by rent spikes and out of town investors prioritizing tourist housing like AirBnB. Even homeowners who have lived in their houses for years—sometimes generations—are losing their homes due to skyrocketing property taxes. In response to this crisis, advocates have pushed the city to take action to lessen the displacement of long-term residents. In August New Orleans City Council passed new rules to restrict short term rentals, and on October 12th New Orleans voters will have another opportunity to keep New Orleanians in New Orleans.

A statewide constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot would allow the City of New Orleans to control its own property taxes and offer relief in exchange for affordable housing. Constitutional Amendment 4 comes with support from both sides of the political aisle, having been endorsed by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. This bipartisan support is a rare find in Louisiana, and Mayor Cantrell’s office attributes that to the proposition’s ability to “provide local solutions to local problems”.

Among those solutions is a plan suggested by Mayor Cantrell which promises to take concrete actions to ensure housing relief for New Orleanians. The plan has two main pieces. The first would address the spike in tax assessments and provide tax relief for homeowners to ensure property taxes stay affordable for long-term, low-income homeowners and first-time homebuyers. The second piece of Mayor Cantrell’s plan is to incentivize small landlords and builders to increase the number of affordable rental units on the market.

New Orleans need its long-term residents and a #YesOn4 vote means we’ll be able to set our own rules with the New Orleans City Council rather than at the state legislature in Baton Rouge. We hope you will join us in getting out the word and getting out the vote on October 12th, because we know that when New Orleans can take care of itself, the whole state thrives.
Click here to find your polling place and here to see if you’re registered to vote!

A Look into New Orleans LGBTQ+ History

Posted on 04. Oct, 2019 by in Blog

In New Orleans, queer and trans communities have many unique histories. One example is the history of Storyville, New Orleans’ legal red-light district which was operational from 1897 to 1917. Established by municipal ordinance under the New Orleans City Council to regulate prostitution and drugs, Storyville became home to a portion of New Orleans’ queer, trans, and black populations, who were pushed to the margins of society.

Restaurants, saloons and brothels lined the streets of the district, enticing travelers from the nearby train station. Given that options for work and housing were limited for queer and trans people during this time, many opted to earn a living via sex work and moved into Storyville to support themselves. There, they could live freely amongst members of their communities.

Storyville was renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and equally unique “cast of characters.” Fanny Sweet, an infamous Storyville resident, was openly gay and the owner of a well-known brothel in the district. She was described as a “thief, lesbian, Confederate spy, poisoner and procurer.” Another colorful persona, Miss Big Nelly, was a prominent member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Storyville, operating a brothel in the district that housed gay men.  The saloons in Storyville gave a soundtrack to the activities of the district. Jazz music flourished at these music clubs during the late nineteenth century. An iconic figure at the pianos of Storyville saloons was Tony Jackson. He was an openly gay black musician who played an important role in the birth of Jazz music in New Orleans and both lived and worked in Storyville.

When prostitution became illegal again in 1917, Storyville shut down and most of its buildings were later destroyed, causing the displacement of all those who once called it home. By 1940, the location was being used to build the Iberville Housing Projects, a segregated all-white housing development. Black residents who used to live in Storyville had to move 12 blocks into the Lafitte project. It is important to note that queer and trans people would not be legally protected against housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in Orleans parish until fairly recently. In 1991, the New Orleans City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance protecting LGBTQIA+ people against discrimination in housing and employment in Orleans Parish.

Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act does not explicitly include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, sex discrimination frequently applies to discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. There are also some newer rules on the books that extend protections to queer and transgender individuals under the law. For example, in federally funded housing, HUD’s LGBT rule protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes public housing, housing rented with a Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher, FHA mortgages, and lots of other programs. For more information on legal protections against housing discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation please refer to this previous blog post.

If you think you have experienced housing discrimination because of your sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100.  Help is free and confidential.

Coming Home with a Criminal Background

Posted on 20. Sep, 2019 by in Blog

The United States has a long history of discriminatory arrests, convictions, and incarcerations, the consequences of which can last long after a sentence is completed.  For formerly incarcerated people (FIP), it is more difficult to obtain employment opportunities, to vote, to receive government assistance, and to find housing opportunities. Numerous state and federal laws have influenced an unfair system that is responsible for arrest rates being 2.5 times higher for African Americans than for white individuals, resulting in African American communities being denied housing at a higher rate and furthering segregation in our neighborhoods.

A 2015 GNOFHAC investigation revealed that background checks were being used as a means to discriminate against African-Americans. The investigation showed that housing providers were not applying criminal background checks across all races equally. 50% of the housing providers that were tested in New Orleans discriminated against African American mystery shoppers who had criminal backgrounds. Additionally, the investigation found that housing providers were consistently willing to give white testers a second chance, while African American testers were not given that same leniency. Housing providers also quoted more tolerant policies to white testers, such as one housing provider who encouraged a white tester with a misdemeanor to apply for a home but told an African American tester that the misdemeanor would result in a denial.

 Even policies that are enforced equally can still have a discriminatory effect. Disparate impact occurs when policies, practices, rules or other systems, which appear to be neutral, result in a disproportionate impact on a protected group. Since people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are more likely to be targeted by the criminal justice system, overly broad criminal background policies will consistently have an unfair impact based on race and national origin. Even though the policy may seem equal, the effect can deny communities of color housing opportunities at an unfair rate, resulting in difficulty obtaining mailing addresses, living in safe environments, and reintegrating with society.

For some, an expungement can provide individuals with opportunities to remove prior arrest records. Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana (JAC) offers free monthly workshops that provide eligibility screenings for individuals who are trying to obtain expungements with representatives from Orleans Public Defenders, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Voice of the Experienced, and pro bono attorneys who are available to answer questions and provide resources. You can find more information at their website:

While expungements will not provide the social and institutional change that is needed to eliminate the discriminatory justice system, it may give FIP opportunities to live their lives with more ease. In addition, there are local efforts pushing to change city wide housing practices in regard to criminal background policies. GNOFHAC is proud to support VOTE’s (Voice of the Experienced) work to ban the box on all rental applications in New Orleans so that private landlords and public housing authorities alike cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant based on their criminal record. GNOFHAC enforces the Fair Housing Act for all individuals who have been discriminated against. The Fair Housing Act protects everyone against housing discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sex and having children. If you or someone that you know has faced housing discrimination of any kind, call us at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online at

Additional resources:

Navigating HANO criminal background screening policy

Guide with basic info on Expungements

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.

Newly Proposed Rule Would Make Lawsuits like Road Home and St. Bernard Parish “Blood Relative” Cases Nearly Impossible

Posted on 23. Aug, 2019 by in Blog, News

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) denounced an extreme move by the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to eviscerate a long-standing civil rights protection known as “disparate impact.” HUD’s proposed rule, published today in the federal register, would make it far more difficult to challenge discriminatory practices that are not blatant or explicit.

Though the term “disparate impact” may not be well-known, residents of South Louisiana are far too familiar with the trials and tribulations of dealing with the Road Home program after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Chief among the problems with the program was its discriminatory funding formula. Initially, the program used what appeared to be a neutral policy of offering homeowners rebuilding grants determined by the pre-storm value of their damaged home. Despite being neutral on its face, the policy resulted in homeowners in segregated white neighborhoods—which had higher pre-storm values—receiving higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar. Because of disparate impact, GNOFHAC’s lawsuit resulted in HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority putting $62 million dollars back in the pockets of Louisianans to rebuild their homes. It’s exactly this legal principle that HUD is attempting to gut with its new rule. 

Another significant post-Katrina case that utilized disparate impact was GNOFHAC’s challenge to the St. Bernard Parish “blood relative” ordinance. That law, passed in 2006 by the Parish Council, prohibited the rental of single-family residences unless to a blood relative, at a time when 93 percent of parish homeowners were white. The lawsuit, as well as a subsequent disparate impact challenge to a ban on apartment buildings, paved the way for more rental housing available to Louisianans hoping to come home after the storms.

HUD’s proposed rule significantly raises the burden of proof for discrimination, provides special protections for businesses that use algorithms, and appears to lay the foundation for exempting the insurance industry from disparate impact liability.

The disparate impact theory has been used to prove housing discrimination claims since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and has enjoyed bi-partisan support for more than 50 years, beginning with its application by Richard Nixon’s Administration. Disparate impact has been upheld by 11 Courts of Appeals and by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2015 Texas Dept. of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project ruling.

“Whether you’re black, white, a family with children, or you have a disability, everyone should have a fair opportunity to find a place to call home. Disparate impact is not abstract in Louisiana—this legal tool has directly benefitted the residents of our state. Attacking this long held civil rights protection is just another way this Administration seeks to divide our country,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

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. 


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.