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My Departure from GNOFHAC

Posted on 31. Mar, 2015 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar)

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.26.35 PM-2Today, I write with mixed emotions to let you know that today, March 31st, will be my last day with GNOFHAC. As many of you know, I have worked with the Center in various roles over the course of more than a decade. Though I remain steadfast in my commitments to equity and social justice in New Orleans, it has become clear that my relationship to the work that remains to be done needs to change. Read More…

Most Landlords Are Just Trying to do the Right Thing

Posted on 10. Feb, 2015 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar), Policy Updates

handshake meme

It’s easy to get caught up in the stories about nightmare slumlords, but in a city where most of us—55%–are renters, the truth is that New Orleans has thousands of wonderful landlords: people who care about their neighborhoods, who provide safe, decent housing for families, and who would never ignore issues like sewage leaks and black mold in their units.

You may have heard by now that City Council is weighing a plan to establish a regular inspection system for New Orleans’ rental units. Read More…

St. Bernard Parish to Pay $1.8 Million to Settle Decade Long Fair Housing Center Suit

Posted on 19. Dec, 2014 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar)

StBernardSignToday, GNOFHAC announced that it has settled all claims against St. Bernard Parish stemming from a 2006 lawsuit that challenged Parish ordinances designed to restrict rentals. These ordinances included the “blood relative ordinance,” which stipulated that owners of single-family homes could only rent to their blood relatives. Specifically, this week’s agreement settles all matters on appeal and requires the Parish to pay $1,843,728 in fees to GNOFHAC, any other plaintiffs, and their attorneys. Read More…

St. Bernard Parish to Pay $1.8 Million to Settle Decade Long Fair Housing Center Suit

Posted on 19. Dec, 2014 by in News

Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) announced that it has settled all claims against St. Bernard Parish stemming from a 2006 lawsuit that challenged Parish ordinances designed to restrict rentals. These ordinances included the “blood relative ordinance,” which stipulated that owners of single-family homes could only rent to their blood relatives. Specifically, this week’s agreement settles all matters on appeal and requires the Parish to pay $1,843,728 in fees to GNOFHAC, any other plaintiffs, and their attorneys.

In 2008, the Parish agreed to settle GNOFHAC’s 2006 suit by entering into a consent decree. Through the decree, the Parish agreed not to violate the Fair Housing Act. Over the course of the next several years, however, the Parish continued to enact ordinances that restricted rentals, including a 2008 moratorium on all multi-family housing. GNOFHAC filed several motions and complaints alleging the Parish repeatedly violated the terms of the consent decree, a federal court’s orders, and the Fair Housing Act.

Federal courts ruled in favor of GNOFHAC’s position in round after round of court proceedings, but each time, the Parish appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  This week’s settlement agreement ends the appeals process altogether.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry stated, “We are pleased that the Parish has once and for all agreed to pay up and put this matter to rest.  In the face of officially sanctioned discrimination on the part of Parish leaders, our fight ensured that all people, regardless of race, were able to make a home in St. Bernard. We hope that this settlement sends a clear message that in addition to being wrong, housing discrimination is just not worth it when it comes to the financial bottom line.”

Click here to read our comprehensive litigation timeline.

To Unlock Domestic Violence’s Grip on Louisiana, Courage is Key

Posted on 28. Oct, 2014 by in Blog, Participate (for sidebar)

BATTERED WOMAN

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, and domestic violence remains a pervasive problem worthy of our attention. Recent conversations about the issue were triggered by the release of a video showing ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice coldcocking his then fiancé in an elevator. The NFL’s celebrity status may make Louisianans feel removed from the issue of domestic violence, but nothing could be further from the truth. Protections that yield safe homes for victims are sorely needed to ensure women’s safety. The problem of domestic violence requires our attention year round. Read More…

Fair Housing Center Settles Federal Race Discrimination Suit in Slidell; Landlord Agrees to Pay Damages and Use Property Manager

Posted on 17. Sep, 2014 by in News, Participate (for sidebar)

Yesterday, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) settled a federal lawsuit against landlord Steven Stubenrauch. The suit alleged that Stubenrauch violated the federal Fair Housing Act by engaging in racial discrimination in the rental of an apartment in Slidell, Louisiana.  As a result of the settlement, Stubenrauch will pay $15,000 in damages to GNOFHAC. Further, Stubenrauch will relinquish rental management of all current and future properties to a professional property management company.

In response to suspected discrimination on the North Shore, GNOFHAC conducted an undercover investigation of housing providers in the area and discovered the alleged discrimination.  The complaint alleged that Stubenrauch repeatedly misrepresented the availability of his advertised rental property to African-Americans because of their race.

GNOFHAC sent trained mystery shoppers posing as apartment seekers to inquire about the property’s availability.  The investigation uncovered that each time an African-American mystery shopper contacted Stubenrauch about the apartment, he said that it was unavailable for inspection or rental, stating that the tenant had not yet vacated and that substantial repairs were required.  During the same period of time, he invited three white testers to inspect the vacant unit and apply to rent it.

In addition to paying damages and relinquishing control of the rental of his properties, the settlement requires that Mr. Stubenrauch:

•receive fair housing training;

•institute a non-discrimination policy and revise the rental criteria;

•provide fair housing literature to all current tenants and future applicants

•place an equal opportunity logo on all advertisements, and

•permit GNOFHAC to inspect rental records to assure continued compliance.

 James Perry, GNOFHAC Executive Director, comments, “Noone should be excluded from renting a home because of their race.  But through fair housing mystery shopping, we uncovered clear evidence that Mr. Stubenrauch was engaged in blatant discrimination against prospective African American tenants, solely on the basis of their race.  We are pleased to be able to chip away at discriminatory housing practices through this settlement agreement but encourage anyone who suspects they may have been discriminated against because of their race while trying to rent a home to report their suspicions to the Fair Housing Action Center as soon as possible.”

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

Fair Housing Center Files Suit Over Discrimination Against Deaf Homeseekers

Posted on 14. Jul, 2014 by in 2014 News, Enforcement News, News, Participate (for sidebar)

On Friday, July 11, 2014, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and one deaf plaintiff filed suit against Craig Tolbert, owner of NOLA Apartments, in federal court. The complaint alleges the company discriminated against deaf individuals seeking to rent apartments. Specifically, NOLA Apartments employees misrepresented the availability of housing and made discriminatory statements to deaf individuals who expressed interest in renting homes from the company.

Throughout 2013, GNOFHAC used “mystery shopping” to investigate NOLA Apartments and uncovered disturbing, illegal behavior. For example, in May 2013, a deaf mystery shopper called NOLA Apartments using a relay system to inquire about renting a one bedroom apartment. An agent at NOLA Apartments answered the phone and told the mystery shopper that she “didn’t have time” and hung up. The mystery shopper called back and the NOLA Apartments agent immediately hung up on her. On the third call, the NOLA Apartments agent told the mystery shopper that there were “no units available.” The calls were recorded by the IP-Relay system’s transcript. Later that day, a hearing mystery shopper called NOLA Apartments to inquire about renting a one bedroom. A NOLA Apartments agent told the tester that a one-bedroom apartment was available for $1,675 per month. The conversation was captured on a digital recorder. During a follow-up investigation, an agent told a deaf mystery shopper over the phone that she “can’t devote a long time to [the deaf individual] on the phone” and that the deaf individual “need[s] to have someone who can hear to speak” and hung up the phone.

The Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination in housing on the basis of a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or family status (whether or not a person has children). In the complaint, GNOFHAC alleges that Craig Tolbert and NOLA Apartments violated the Fair Housing Act by misrepresenting the availability of housing on the basis of disability, making housing unavailable on the basis of disability, and making a discriminatory statement on the basis of disability.

Further, the complaint alleges that NOLA Apartments violated a 2011 conciliation agreement that enjoins it from discriminating in housing. The conciliation agreement resolved an administrative complaint that GNOFHAC filed against the company alleging discrimination on the basis of family status.

Before filing in court, GNOFHAC attempted to resolve the matter with another administrative complaint. On June 11, 2014, the Louisiana Department of Justice determined that reasonable cause exists to believe that NOLA Apartments engaged in unlawful housing discrimination. However, the parties were unable to reach an agreement through the conciliation process.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, “People deserve an equal opportunity to live in a home that meets their needs regardless of whether or not they have a disability. We have grave concerns about NOLA Apartments’ practices since this is the second time in less than five years that we have caught them engaged in egregious acts of illegal housing discrimination. We urge Mr. Tolbert to step up to the plate and give potential renters a fair shot as is required by law.”

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

The choice to protect domestic violence victims is simple

Posted on 28. May, 2014 by in Actions, Blog, Participate (for sidebar), Policy Statements, Policy Updates

Used and abused; domestic violence conceptWe have a client right now who was evicted from her apartment literally because her ex-boyfriend showed up uninvited and brutalized her to the point of hospitalization. So we’ve pulled out all the stops in order to get state law changed so that this never happens to another woman in Louisiana.

TAKE ACTION NOW! Read More…

Fair Housing Center Expresses Concerns Over Possible Civil Rights Violation in Relation to St. George Incorporation

Posted on 24. Apr, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, News, Participate (for sidebar)

On Wednesday, representatives of the Fair Housing Action Center (FHAC) publicly indicated for the first time that the organization, in partnership with national litigation partners, is studying the St. George incorporation effort regarding concerns that it may violate federal civil rights laws.

FHAC Executive Director James Perry commented “A review of information about the impacts of incorporation on the part of St. George indicates that it would have troubling and possibly illegal results in relation to increased school segregation and a racially discriminatory effect on the provision of municipal services in the City of Baton Rouge.  The Fair Housing Center may find it necessary to litigate in order to protect the civil rights of all Baton Rouge residents.”

A recent report from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Baton Rouge Area Chamber lays out a series of troubling impacts regarding the potential incorporation.  Should the incorporation effort succeed, the City of St. George will be approximately 70 percent white, and 23 percent Black, compared to the City of Baton Rouge which is a majority-minority city with a population that is 55 percent Black, and 40 percent White.  In light of those racial demographic changes, it is especially disturbing that other anticipated impacts include: Read More…

Fair Housing Center Settles Federal Race Discrimination Suit on Eve of MLK Holiday

Posted on 20. Jan, 2014 by in 2014 News, Enforcement News, News

On Friday, January 17, 2014, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) settled a federal lawsuit against landlord Gerald Ditta. The suit alleged that Ditta violated the federal Fair Housing Act by engaging in a pattern of systemic race discrimination in the rental of his Gretna, LA property.  As a result of the settlement, Ditta will pay $50,000 to GNOFHAC and the named plaintiff. Further, Ditta will relinquish rental management of his properties to a local real estate management company for the next three years.

The plaintiffs’ March 2013 complaint alleged that Ditta repeatedly misrepresented the availability of his rental property to African-Americans because of their race. The named plaintiff, GNOFHAC’s client, called Ditta in response to an advertisement for his rental property. Ditta told her that his apartment was not available to rent. However, the advertisement reappeared a few weeks later. When the client again called Ditta about the ad, Ditta again told her the apartment was not available.  The client became suspicious and contacted GNOFHAC.

GNOFHAC conducted an investigation of the property in which it sent trained mystery shoppers posing as apartment seekers to inquire about the property’s availability.  The investigation uncovered that each time an African-American mystery shopper contacted Ditta about the apartment, Ditta said that it was rented and did not invite them to view it.  In contrast, Mr. Ditta invited GNOFHAC’s white mystery shoppers to view the apartment.  In total, Ditta told three African-American mystery shoppers on five occasions that the apartment was rented and did not offer them a showing, while offering to show the apartment to three white mystery shoppers during the same time period.

In addition to the monetary payment and relinquishing control of the rental of his properties, the settlement requires that Mr. Ditta receive fair housing training; that his properties be advertised in minority media; that he implement and adhere to a non-discrimination policy; that he implement written rental criteria to ensure equal opportunity access to his rental properties; and that his tenants receive “know your rights” fair housing literature.

James Perry, GNOFHAC Executive Director, said, “At the urging of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the federal Fair Housing Act seven days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Johnson called on Congress to honor Dr. King’s legacy by ending housing discrimination. Regrettably, 46 years after Dr. King’s death, this settlement provides evidence that discrimination persists. The Fair Housing Center is committed to honoring Dr. King by seeing to it that his dream of fair housing opportunity becomes reality.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Alexander Bollag, Aurora Bryant, Elizabeth Owen and Christopher Brancart, of the law firm Brancart & Brancart.

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