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Hurricane Season and the History of Unequal Disaster Risk

Posted on 04. Jun, 2018 by in Blog

The Atlantic Hurricane season officially started on June 1. The Data Center’s recent report, Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk, reminds us that disasters don’t affect everyone equally. The report highlights some of the history that led to an unfair disaster risk burden on people of lower-income and people of color in New Orleans.

Early in New Orleans’ history, wealthy New Orleanians were able to buy the land above sea level, while lower income residents, including free people of color, settled on lower ground. This made it so the homes of the white and wealthy were less susceptible to flooding.

Fast-forward to the levees failing after Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, and while the storm displaced many people across the city, African American residents were more likely to be impacted by flooding than other groups: 68 percent of African Americans faced displacement, compared to 43 percent of whites.

The Road Home recovery program that awarded homeowners money to return and rebuild ultimately enforced patterns of segregation and inequality by giving larger monetary amounts to homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods than homeowners in predominately African American neighborhoods based on either the home’s pre-storm value or the cost to rebuild, whichever was the lesser amount.

As a result, homeowners in segregated white neighborhoods, which had higher pre-storm values, received higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods, who were frequently awarded the lower pre-storm value of the home. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar,” the report states. GNOFHAC filed a lawsuit against HUD and the State of Louisiana and reached a $62 million settlement in 2011.

A 2015 Louisiana State University report found that 70 percent of long-term white residents were able to return to New Orleans within one year, whereas only 42 percent of long-term black residents made it back in the same time period.

The faulty Road Home program was just part of the reason so many African American residents did not return to rebuild. Low-income and African American homeowners often did not know their homes were located in a floodplain because of outdated maps used by mortgage banks and insurance companies. For the working-class families that did have flood insurance, few had enough to cover a total loss of their home.

If you’re in the process of preparing for this year’s hurricane season, and you don’t have your own transportation to leave during a mandatory evacuation, go to your closest “evacuspot” to use City-assisted evacuation. Watch this video to find out more:

Redlining and the Racial Wealth Gap

Posted on 16. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, it is important to remember how present day segregation and inequality were created and maintained by generations of discriminatory housing policies.  One of the most significant was redlining, a practice where banks and insurance companies literally drew red lines around neighborhoods that were considered an unsafe investment, using racially explicit policies that targeted African-American neighborhoods and other communities of color. Redlining maps gave different color grades to each neighborhood: green being the “best;” blue–“still desirable,” yellow–“definitely declining,”, and red–“hazardous.”

Image: Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond. To explore an interactive map of your neighborhood, check out Mapping Inequality from Richmond University’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

After World War I, the practice of redlining was adopted by the federal government, and it became even more damaging and widespread. It was government policy to deny African-Americans home loans and to actively enforce segregation: “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities,” stated the Underwriting Manual of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Photo Source: Trinity College Epress

Redlining was enforced not just by government policy, but also through industry practices. From 1924-1950, Article 34 of The Realtor Code of Ethics read, “A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.” Individual homeowners were at times complicit themselves. In many cases, restrictive covenants were written into the deeds of homes, stating that they could not be sold to anyone who was not “of the Caucasian race.” As a result of all of these actions, less than two percent of all FHA mortgages went to non-white families.

These policies not only prevented African-Americans from buying homes till 1968, it set up the racial wealth gap we see today: Median white wealth is twelve times higher than median black wealth, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In the article, Janelle Jones argues that “Overall, housing equity makes up about two-thirds of all wealth for the typical (median) household. In short, for median families, the racial wealth gap is primarily a housing wealth gap. This is no accident.” While white families accumulated wealth through homeownership, African-American families didn’t have the opportunity to invest and build equity in a home, making it harder for their children and grandchildren to buy homes.

In his powerful article, “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that “when the mid-20th-century white homeowner claimed that the presence of a Bill and Daisy Myers decreased his property value, he was not merely engaging in racist dogma—he was accurately observing the impact of federal policy on market prices. Redlining destroyed the possibility of investment wherever black people lived.”

A recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that neighborhoods marked by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation as “hazardous” have lower incomes, more minorities and signs of gentrification.

While redlining has been illegal since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, it still occurs today. GNOFHAC, along with the Fair Housing Alliance and 18 other civil rights organizations, recently filed a federal lawsuit against Deutsche Bank for neglecting foreclosed homes in communities of color. While the bank owns properties in both predominately white communities as well as African-American communities, photographs show they neglected to maintain the bank-owned homes in communities of color, resulting in these homes having overgrown grass and weeds, unlocked doors and windows, broken doors and windows, dead animals decaying, and trash and debris left in yards, while homes in white neighborhoods were kept free of debris and trash and had secured windows and doors.

“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,” states GNOFHAC’s News Release.

In another recent example of redlining, The Department of Housing and Urban Development filed charges on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance (FHA) in January 2017, accusing Bank of America and two of its employees of lending discrimination. The National Fair Housing Alliance conducted mystery shopper tests with white and Latino applicants both pretending to be prospective mortgage borrowers in South Carolina. The NFHA investigation found that the Latino applicants were consistently given inferior loan options compared to the white applicants, and therefore Bank of America was discriminating based on national origin, one of the protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. The case settled in May 2017, with Bank of America agreeing to contribute more than $400,000 to support fair housing in South Carolina.

While 50 years have passed since redlining and all forms of housing discrimination were made illegal under the Fair Housing Act, the effects of discriminatory housing practices persist today. As the examples above show, redlining still occurs and helps to further segregation and inequality, which is especially damaging when carried out on a large-scale by banks and institutions. If you think you have experienced discrimination by a bank, insurance company, or other housing provider, call the GNO Fair Housing Action Center at (877) 445-2100.

The 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

Posted on 11. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. On April 11, 1968, exactly one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Fair Housing Act was finally signed into law after years of struggle. The proximity of these two significant events is not coincidental. Dr. King had moved to Chicago in 1966 to join the Open Housing Movement, which fought to end segregation and advocated for housing justice. The Fair Housing Act was passed in part to honor his work. Perhaps just as significantly, mass unrest erupted after Dr. King’s assassination and the warnings of the Kerner Commission report, which argued only a few months prior that rioting was caused by systemic racism, seemed to be coming true. Lawmakers were faced with the reality that they could no longer maintain “two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal” without devastating consequences.

On this day we celebrate that the Fair Housing Act protects all of our rights to housing free from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and family status. Though the Fair Housing Act has been in place for fifty years, we continue to find high rates of housing discrimination in communities across the country. We still need a strong Fair Housing Movement to work for neighborhoods that are welcoming, accessible and full of opportunities for all. You can support the Fair Housing Movement by learning more about GNOFHAC’s local work, signing up for action alerts, or donating to help fight housing discrimination.

Recommended Reading

Posted on 29. Jan, 2018 by in Blog

In honor of January being National Book Month, here is a recommended reading list from GNOFHAC staff: 

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
by Richard Rothstein

Rothstein details the many ways that housing segregation in communities across the United States was created and enforced by government action. The impacts of local, state and federal government policies, like racially explicit zoning laws and homeownership and underwriting policies that subsidized white flight and suburbanization while locking families of color out, continue to be seen in persistent patterns of segregation and the enormous wealth gap between white and black families. It’s essential to understand this often invisible history in order to envision what real housing justice might look like in our communities.

 – Renee Corrigan, Director of Education & Outreach


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City 
by Matthew Desmond

Harvard sociologist, Matthew Desmond, tells the story of eight families struggling to secure housing in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. Desmond brilliantly conveys the hardships and struggle of these individuals and families to simply find a decent place to live. He dismantles the popular misconception that evictions are the result of poverty, and instead shows how they are more often the cause of it.

And if you needed another reason to pick up Evicted, President Obama included it as one of the best books he read in 2017.

 – Erica Rawles, Community Engagement Coordinator


Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
by Beryl Satter

The author writes about her father, Mark J. Satter, an apartment building owner in Chicago in the ’50s. It describes how and why the once Jewish community changed to African-American, by looking at issues of debt peonage, blockbusting, segregation, and discriminatory practices at local and federal levels, and showing how each exploited the African-American community in its own unique and unscrupulous ways.

 – Michelle Morgan, Coordinator of Investigations


Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
by Angela Davis

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle attests to Angela Davis’ ability to stay current and foundational in the fight for human rights. Davis stays topical as she connects movements on a global and local scale in various talks around the world. Her ability to stay up to date and keep moving seamlessly through intergenerational human rights struggles makes the book an inspiring read. All in all, this book is a reminder of the importance of the work we all do.

 – Raven Crane, Intake Specialist


How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood
by Peter Moskowitz

How to Kill a City is on my reading list for 2018. It’s an important read because it connects the visible and visceral effects of gentrification, like rise in rent and the displacement of people, with intentional policy and economic decisions that are not written in the interest of the people they affect. 

 – Sophie Dulberg, Investigations Fellow




Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law
by Dean Spade

Normal Life is not only a great read, but it’s also the gateway to lots of other great books written by Black and Indigenous Feminist, Trans, and Queer writers, who Spade admits are important and informative to the work he does. This book has urgency, criticism, and reiterates the need to work both inside institutions and outside to dismantle transphobia, racism, sexism, and various other forms of institutional violence.

 – Raven Crane, Intake Specialist


Righteous Lives: Narratives of the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement
by Kim Lacy Rogers

Righteous Lives explores the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement through the accounts of 25 activists, in their own words. It records the history of three generations of Civil Rights leaders and is one of the more thorough tellings of the civil rights struggle in New Orleans.

 – Maxwell Ciardullo, Director of Policy & Communications 



Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It
by Mindy Thompson Fullilove 

Root Shock is the book that made realize that if I cared about public health, I needed to be an urban planner. It uses poignant, first-person interviews and deep public health research to track the disproportionate displacement of African American neighborhoods through the highway building and urban renewal policies of the 1950s-70s. Fullilove catalogues the psychological trauma caused to communities that were uprooted from homes, jobs, extended families, and support networks and makes a compelling case for how we avoid future policies of displacement. 
 – Maxwell Ciardullo, Director of Policy & Communications


The Warmth of Other Suns
by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns is a history of the great migration. It examines the experience of individuals who lived in the Jim Crow South and left, and what they found on the other side. Amongst many other issues, the book explores the causes and effects of residential segregation in northern cities and explains a lot about our modern day human geography, both nationwide and at the city level. 

 – Brad Hellman, Director of Homeownership Protection

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.

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.