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Fair Housing and Incarceration: support formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls

Posted on 08. Dec, 2017 by in Blog

VOTE (Voice of the Experienced) is leading a march and rally Dec. 15 for formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls. While women in the U.S. make up only five percent of the world’s female population, they make up almost 30 percent of the worldwide total of incarcerated women. Louisiana has the highest per capita incarceration rate of any state in the U.S., and it ranks number seven in the world for incarcerating women. In the Greater New Orleans area, the rate of incarcerated women has increased by 700 percent since 1984, with black women incarcerated at twice the rate of white women; and in all of the U.S., women are the fastest growing incarcerated population.

The ability to access decent and affordable housing is essential to successful reentry after incarceration. With almost one-third of the nation’s population having some type of criminal record, it is imperative that housing providers and realtors employ fair criminal background check policies to ensure that individuals with criminal backgrounds have access to housing.

People with criminal backgrounds are not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, but according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “criminal history-based restrictions on housing opportunities violate the Act if, without justification, their burden falls more often on renters or other housing market participants of one race or national origin over another.”

Since African-American and Latino populations are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionate rates, overly broad criminal background checks by housing providers will have a disparate impact on people of color.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released guidance on criminal background checks by housing providers in April 2016. The guidance states that background check policies must:

  1. Take into account the nature and severity of an individual’s conviction,
  2. Consider the amount of time that has passed since the criminal conduct occurred, and
  3. Consider the nature, severity, and recency of criminal conduct.

Housing providers cannot:

  1. Have overly broad criminal background checks or blanket bans on people with criminal backgrounds,
  2. Deny housing solely because of an arrest, or
  3. Deny housing based on a conviction without being able to show that the applicant poses a threat to the property or other tenants.

Criminal background screening policies can also be used to disguise race discrimination. An audit GNOFHAC conducted in 2015 showed that white prospective applicants with criminal backgrounds were treated more leniently than equally qualified African American applicants with a similar criminal background 50 percent of the time.

If you think you may have been discriminated against while looking for housing, call us at (877) 445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

To show your support for formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls, join VOTE at the march in New Orleans Dec. 15, and consider donating to raise money to bail women out for the holidays.

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.

 

Louisiana ranked as the third deadliest state for women

Posted on 13. Oct, 2017 by in Blog

October is domestic violence awareness month and in Louisiana, one of the states with highest rates of female homicide victims, there is an even more urgent need for awareness and action.

In September, the Violence Policy Center released its annual report, “When Men Murder Women: Analysis of 2015 Homicide Data,” ranking Louisiana as the state with the third highest rate of women murdered by men. Although Louisiana dropped from last year’s ranking as the state with the second highest female homicide, the rate of women murdered by men has continued to steadily climb from 1.67 per 100,000 in 2011 to 2.22 per 100,000 in 2015, even as the rate of female homicide victims nationwide has decreased.

The report also shows that black women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence. The rate of black females murdered by males was more than twice as high as the rate of white female victims in 2015; however, there has been a lack of attention on the excessive amounts of violence that black women face: “The disproportionate burden of fatal and nonfatal violence borne by black females has almost always been overshadowed by the toll violence has taken on black males,” the report states.

Domestic violence and housing go hand in hand. Far too often, survivors of domestic violence are forced to make the decision between their safety and their home. Nearly 1 in 3 residents in Louisiana domestic violence shelters reported being there because the actions of their abusers led to their eviction, according to a 2015 Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence survey. Because many shelters are at capacity and have to turn away survivors, evictions are a direct cause of homelessness. According to the 2013 Louisiana Homeless Census, 75 percent of all homeless adults in Louisiana report being victims of domestic violence.

In 2015, GNOFHAC, the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and partners from across the state succeeded in passing the Louisiana Violence Against Women Act to protect the housing rights of survivors of domestic violence. There are four important provisions:

  1. Survivors cannot be evicted or penalized for calling for emergency assistance. It’s against the law for a housing provider to have a “zero tolerance” policy for police visits in their lease.
  2. Survivors cannot be evicted because of the violence of their abuser. Survivors are often evicted due to the actions of an abuser regardless of whether or not the abuser lived on the property. This act not only protects survivors against court-ordered evictions, but also against other types of evictions, like a notice to vacate or refusal to renew a month-to-month lease.
  3. Survivors cannot be denied housing solely because they have experienced past abuse. Shelters often report that if a survivor lists a domestic violence shelter as a previous residence on a housing application, she has more trouble finding housing. A landlord or leasing agent cannot refuse to provide housing to someone solely because they have experienced domestic violence.
  4. Survivors can terminate a lease early if they need to. Survivors who need to leave their home due to domestic violence must be allowed to do so without forfeiting their security deposit or other penalty.

The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act offers important protections, but many tenants in Louisiana are not aware of these rights. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-888-411-1333. Help is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against by a housing provider, or if you have questions about your housing rights, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 1-877-445-2100.