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Fair Housing Legislative Updates

Posted on 25. Apr, 2019 by in Blog

Image of a New Orleans shotgun style home.
The Louisiana Legislature is in full swing. Several bills may help Louisianans stay in our homes—whether we rent or own—even as prices climb.

1) Senate bills 79 and 80 by Sen. Troy Carter will allow the City of New Orleans to reduce taxes on long-time, lower-income homeowners to ensure we aren’t gentrified out of our homes by skyrocketing tax assessments. It can also be used to offer incentives to landlords to keep rents low when affordability expires. In New Orleans we value our culture and traditions and know that without the people who create and maintain them, we lose everything that makes us so unique.



2) Another bill by Sen. Ed Price will ensure we aren’t forced from our homes whenever we face an unexpected medical bill or car breakdown. Senate bill 28 would provide us one opportunity every six months to get current on rent within 10 days, before the courts get involved. As it stands now, landlords can force us from our homes if we’re only one day late or one dollar short.

3) This session HB 422 would let local governments raise their own minimum wages and SB 155 would raise the state minimum wage. There are also equal pay bills like HB 63 and SCR 2 to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
Even if you can’t make it to the Capitol, follow us on Facebook for updates.

How to Recognize Racial Discrimination in Rentals

Posted on 18. Apr, 2019 by in Blog

There are a million reasons why trying to find a new apartment is stressful and challenging. When looking for a new place you may be asking yourself: Can I afford the rent? Is it in a location that I like? Is the house big enough for my family? Unfortunately, many people in our community also find themselves asking if they will be denied because of their race.

According to GNOFHAC’s mystery shopper investigations, African American potential renters are treated worse than equally qualified white potential renters about half of the time. That means Black renters have to look at twice as many apartments and work twice as hard in order to find a place to live. To deny or discourage someone from renting because of their race is against the law, but it still happens all too often. Because housing discrimination is often hard to detect, it’s unfortunately not always easy to know if you’re experiencing discrimination or if the apartment just didn’t work out.

So how do you recognize racial discrimination in the rental market? The first thing to do is listen to your gut. Did something about your interaction with the landlord just seem off? Pay attention if something didn’t feel right to you. Some examples of red flags to keep an out for include:

  • A housing provider telling you that a rental was available when you contacted them by email, but then telling you it had been rented when they heard your voice or saw you in person.
  • A housing provider suggesting that you look at their properties in another neighborhood instead of the one you are interested in.
  • A housing provider not returning your calls or keeping appointments, or outright discouraging you from even applying.
  • Being told that certain amenities that were advertised are not available or different after meeting with a housing provider.
  • A housing provider asking unnecessary questions about your qualifications or how you would treat the house.
  • A housing provider making a comment based on stereotypes or that makes you feel uncomfortable.

If you think you’ve experienced discrimination because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or because you have children, please call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100 or (877) 445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

Testing for Discrimination

Posted on 15. Apr, 2019 by in Blog

Image of sign that reads “For Rent” with houses in the background.

At GNOFHAC, we use testing as a tool to enforce fair housing laws. Testing is done by trained mystery shoppers who take on the role of a prospective homeowner or renter for the purpose of gathering information to identify unlawful discrimination and to ensure that individuals or companies are in compliance with the law.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that testers are harmed by discrimination and can sue under the Fair Housing Act. After considering the case Havens Realty Corporation vs. Coleman–during which a Black tester was told there were no vacancies at an apartment complex, while the white tester was told there were several units available–the court determined that not only had the Black tester been harmed by the discrimination, but that both testers could likely show that they had been harmed  “on the ground that the landlord’s policies deprived each the chance to live in an integrated community.”

At GNOFHAC, testing helps us see many different patterns of discrimination against various groups. Testing has shown, for example, that criminal background screening policies are frequently used as a covert form of racial discrimination.

We were inspired by New York Fair Housing Justice Center’s idea to publish the stories of some of the testers who make this work possible (their series is called Acting for Justice). Read on to learn about one of our tester’s experiences on the job.

*

“It’s like acting,” T.R. said of testing for GNOFHAC. “Like when you have to eat stuff that you don’t actually eat sometimes, and pretend to like it.”

T.R. found out about Fair Housing testing through a GNOFHAC First Time Homebuyers class. “I didn’t know people did this stuff. I didn’t have any idea,” T.R. said. She felt compelled to join our effort to combat housing discrimination with the opportunity to make some extra money along the way.

T.R.’s experiences as an African American tester run the gamut. When asked about tests that were particularly memorable, T.R. said, “Going to see an apartment that had a wet mattress on the floor. Being called an animal in the zoo. That sticks out. Seeing some really nice apartments that I wouldn’t actually mind renting if I needed an apartment–that sticks out. The big thing that sticks out, though, is when I go somewhere that’s dirty, that’s firthy, that I would never rent even if it was free. I think about all of the places where I literally was screaming on the inside.”

Mostly, though, T.R. said tests seem normal, in part because our investigators do not disclose what type of discrimination we are testing for to our testers ahead of time. So, T.R. said, “it’s always shocking to find out that actually something [discriminatory] happened.”

T.R. hopes that her work as a tester will help “prevent people from treating people differently because of who they are, their race; or who they believe they are, because all [a housing provider] gets is the surface. If you’re renting an apartment and we all have money and we can pay the rent, then I don’t know what else you’re looking for.”

*
We’re always looking for more testers!  You can learn more about the opportunity to become a tester here: http://www.gnofairhousing.org/participate/become-a-tester/.

Stopping Hate at Home

Posted on 10. Apr, 2019 by in Blog

Image of a home with “no blacs” spray painted on the window. Source: MEN Media.

A core aspect of fair housing for all is for folks to feel safe within their homes and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, there is a long history in the United State of people using harassment, intimidation, threats and even violence to try to keep particular people or groups out of their neighborhoods. These actions are not only wrong, they are also illegal. More specifically, they can be reported as discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

In recent years, there has been an uptick in the number of hate activities reported nationally, with the most recent FBI data showing a 17% increase in the last year alone (Source). Of those incidents, the most common location was in or near a residence.

In order for these actions to violate the Fair Housing Act, they must target someone due to their race, color, religion, national origin, sex (which can include sexual orientation or gender identity or expression), family status or disability. Examples of hate-related incidents include spray painting racial slurs on a home or other vandalism, threats or intimidation due to someone’s national origin, or harassment timed to coincide with a particular religious holiday.

Reporting these acts of hate is important because it can both hold perpetrators accountable and discourage further harassment of other community members. If you or someone you know has faced hate activity at home or housing discrimination of any kind, contact the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Protections Under the Fair Housing Act and LAVAWA

Posted on 02. Apr, 2019 by in Blog

Illustration that reads "sexual assault awareness month, wear teal, day of action, 4-2-2019" with multiracial fists lined up next to each other with teal sleeves showing.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and we here at GNOFHAC support survivors. We believe you, and we want to ensure anyone who has or could potentially face a form of sexual assault or harassment is aware of the housing protections that exist to keep you safe.

The Fair Housing Act protects against two main types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo, or “this for that,” sexual harassment occurs when a housing provider or their employee requires sexual acts in exchange for housing or housing-related transactions like repairs. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when a housing provider or their employee creates an environment of unwanted, severe, and/or pervasive sexual behavior that negatively affects a tenant. As Cashauna Hill, GNOFHAC’s Executive Director points out, “We often think of sexual harassment and discrimination as a workplace issue, but landlords are just as likely to abuse the power they hold over current and prospective tenants.

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. These protections, as well as others under the federal Violence Against Women Act, often protect survivors of sexual harassment or assault. 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 law 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, they have more trouble finding new housing. Under the new law, 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 facing any other penalty.

The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act and other similar laws offer important protections, but many tenants in Louisiana are not aware of their rights. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or other gender based violence and you have questions about your housing rights, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 1-877-445-2100. You can also contact the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-888-411-1333 or the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault at 1-888-995-7273.

Volunteer Month: How to Get Involved in the Fight for Fair Housing

Posted on 01. Apr, 2019 by in Blog

Illustration of a 14 multicolored hands raised together

April is Volunteer Month, and we want to appreciate our amazing volunteers! Thank you for your continued contributions in support of our work. If you follow us on social media or have attended our events, here’s a few ways you can get more involved!

Events

We are always looking for volunteers are our numerous annual events, such as the Crawfish Boil which takes place each April, and our Fit for a King Fair Housing Summit which takes place each January. At events like these, we need volunteers for registration, food, logistics, event preparation, and more! If you’re interested in volunteering at any of our annual events, contact Rachel Mitchell at rmitchell@gnofairhousing.org.

Office Work

In addition to larger events, we are always looking for help around the office with scanning documents, preparing mailings, data entry, and similar projects. If this sounds like something you’d like to help with, please contact Renee Corrigan at rcorrigan@gnofairhousing.org.

Testing

Another way you can get more involved in our work is by becoming a tester. Testers are the mystery shoppers responsible for helping to uncover discrimination by housing providers. Testers are paid for their part-time work and are trained here at GNOFHAC. If you have flexible hours and no prior felony convictions (per HUD’s restrictions), contact Carly Berlin at cberlin@gnofairhousing.org for more information on becoming a tester.

In addition to volunteering, make sure you’re following us on social media, subscribed to our mailing list, and on the look out for upcoming events and ways to get involved in policy work toward fair housing. Thank you!

New Orleans’ Eviction Geography

Posted on 29. Mar, 2019 by in Blog

Photo pictures four panelists at a table with a black table cloth. Background is a grey wall with maps on posters. From left to right are panelists Frank Southall, Davida Finger, Hannah Adams, and Cashauna Hill at JPNSI's New Orleans' Eviction Crisis Panel Event, March 26th, 2019.
Panelists Frank Southall, Davida Finger, Hannah Adams, and Cashauna Hill at JPNSI’s New Orleans’ Eviction Crisis Panel Event, March 26th, 2019.

On Tuesday, March 26th, 2019, community members filled the Robert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative Design for a conversation on New Orleans’ Eviction Geography. Professor Davida Finger of Loyola Law School, the main researcher responsible for the three-year study, opened the panel by explaining the need for residents of New Orleans to reframe housing as a right, and not as an investment – urging folks to picture a new system, not a system based on the remnants of a broken one.

The panel discussed maps outlining evictions in various New Orleans neighborhoods. Professor Finger and Breonne DeDecker of Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI), the main organizational partner of the study, spoke to the need for empirical data to prove statistically that the crisis many are feeling in the city is a real, concrete problem. As the Executive Summary of the report states: “Since 2000, when controlling for inflation, rents have risen 49% while incomes have seen an 8% decrease in the same period.” Further, the report states: “While some residents might find themselves gradually being priced out of a neighborhood, others face a more sudden kind of displacement: eviction.

Hannah Adams of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, also a panel member, discussed the landlord-tenant laws in Louisiana, which are some of the least progressive in the country. In Louisiana, someone can be forced out of their home with a total turnaround of one week, from eviction notice to removal from the property. Further, someone living on a month-to-month lease can be asked to vacate the premises within 10 days of the end of the month, whereas many other states require 30 or 60-day notices. Ms. Adams emphasized that Louisiana landlord-tenant laws provide many options and areas of recourse for the landlord, but very few for tenants.

Another important point that the panelists emphasized was the connection between this problem and the history of racist housing policy within the United States. People of color are disproportionately displaced and evicted, as the report shows. Now that we have such clear evidence of the extent of the eviction crisis in our community, what can we do about it? The report, which can be found here, provides several policy recommendations based on other cities that have gone through similar eviction crises. However, these policies cannot be passed without community engagement, which was stressed by JPNSI Lead Organizer, Frank Southall. He urged folks to get engaged with the Renters’ Rights Assembly, call their councilmembers regarding the passage of the Smart Housing Mix and other policies that would work to curb our eviction crisis.

For more information on JPNSI or the Renters’ Rights Assembly, contact Frank Southall at 504-517-5470 or email frank@jpnsi.org. For legal assistance for low income folks facing eviction, contact Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at 504-529-1000 or visit their office at 1340 Poydras Street, Suite #600, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70112. For updates on policy initiatives to provide more affordable and accessible housing for New Orleans, sign up for our mailing list here.

The Smart Housing Mix can’t wait

Posted on 26. Mar, 2019 by in Blog

Amy Stelly speaking on why we need The Smart Housing Mix in New Orleans.

Amy Stelly, whose family has lived in the Treme for many generations, has watched her neighborhood rapidly change. Since 2000, there has been a 30 percentage point drop in the share of Black people in Treme. Hardworking people are worried they will be forced to leave because of skyrocketing housing costs.

The Smart Housing Mix is one important tool in our toolbox that we can’t afford to forgo. When passed, it will ensure new luxury developments must also include some units affordable to the musicians, hospitality workers, and other working people who keep New Orleans running. Sign up for our email list to make sure you know how to get involved to keep New Orleans affordable to us all. 

Criminal Background Protections under the Fair Housing Act

Posted on 25. Mar, 2019 by in Blog

Pictured are three panelists in chairs with a blue background. Cashauna Hill (left) is holding a microphone, speaking alongside folks from JPNSI (middle) and Step Up Louisiana (right) speaking at VOTE's Fair Housing Community Teach In.
Cashauna Hill (left) alongside folks from JPNSI (middle) and Step Up Louisiana (right) speaking on a panel at VOTE’s Fair Housing Community Teach In.

Those with criminal backgrounds often face enormous hurdles finding housing after coming home from incarceration. Sometimes, the challenges people face finding stable, affordable housing may contribute to recidivism. Though it’s sometimes legal for a landlord to turn down an applicant because of a specific criminal conviction, general bans on renting to formerly incarcerated people (FIPs) violate the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act protects against housing discrimination based on seven factors (race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sex and having children). It can also apply in broader ways in certain situations, such as when a housing policy consistently has an unfair impact against people in one of the protected categories. One such housing policy is banning people with criminal backgrounds. Because people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are over-incarcerated and more likely to be targeted by the criminal justice system, a policy that bans anyone with a background will consistently have an unfair impact based on race and national origin, and will therefore be illegal.

How do you know if you’ve experienced illegal housing discrimination because you have a background? If a landlord won’t rent to you because of an arrest record, even though you’ve never been convicted, they are breaking the law. Similarly, if a landlord fails to consider the type of offense or amount of time since the offense, or other relevant factors such as past substance abuse or untreated mental illness, they may also be breaking the law. If you suspect that your background is being weighed more heavily because of your race, that might also be a red flag. GNOFHAC’s mystery shopper investigations have found that often white applicants are treated more leniently than black applicants who have the same criminal record. We are well aware that these forms of discrimination leave FIPs with nowhere to go upon coming home, so GNOFHAC is partnering with VOTE (Voice of the Experienced) to work toward banning the box on housing applications in Orleans Parish. We’ve also been travelling around the state of Louisiana to re-entry and pre-release classes to inform those coming home of what to look out for during their housing search. If you or a loved one has faced housing discrimination of any kind, call us at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online at http://www.gnofairhousing.org/file-a-complaint/.

Remembering the Chicago Freedom Movement

Posted on 27. Feb, 2019 by in Blog

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after being hit with a rock during a march in Chicago, IL (WTTW).

Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, and the Fair Housing was passed exactly one week later, on April 11th. The Fair Housing Act was passed largely in response to the mass protests and riots that erupted directly after Dr. King’s assassination. A month prior, the report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the “Kerner Commission Report” was released, and it had concluded that rioting in Black communities was the result of pervasive systemic racial inequalities. The report warned that the unrest would continue without significant, large scale reforms, and in the wake of Dr. King’s death, that prophesy seemed to be coming true. Fears about increasing chaos motivated lawmakers who had previously been resistant to finally support the bill.

Dr. King’s work toward the end of his life set the stage for the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Many know of Dr. King’s work in the South in places like Selma and Birmingham, but his work in later years focused on discriminatory housing practices in Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, King supported the Chicago Freedom Movement, which worked to form tenants’ unions, organized strikes against the high rents in the city, and boycotted businesses known for discrimination.

The Chicago Freedom Movement eventually escalated to include marches through segregated white neighborhoods. The infamous photo of Dr. King being hit in the head with a rock while marching was taken during one of these Fair Housing demonstrations in Chicago. Of the incident, King said “I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” (Source).

It has been over 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and there’s still much to be done. The results of redlining and racist housing practices still remain to this day. In New Orleans, the legacy of these policies has left many native New Orleanians and particularly Black residents vulnerable to displacement. Now, many of our neighbors are being pushed out of the city to make way for luxury condominiums and short-term rentals for tourists. To get involved in the fight for fair housing, sign up for our action alerts and newsletter here.