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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.

Fit for a King 2019 Recap

Posted on 11. Feb, 2019 by in Blog

Fit for a King 2019 started with an inspiring opening plenary panel, featuring powerful organizers representing three generations of movement-building in New Orleans. Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons described her work with as a leader with the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Barbara Major reminded the audience that building movements is collective work and not to be done alone, and Angela Kinlaw made a point to emphasize the interconnectedness of social justice efforts, tying her work for workers’ rights efforts and education justice to the fight for fair housing.

The summit’s breakout sessions focused on climate displacement, eviction, and advancing LGBTQ rights. The “Defending Against Eviction Crisis” breakout featured Councilmember Donna Collins-Lewis of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council; Breonne Dedecker, Program Manager at Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative; and Davida Finger, Professor of Law at Loyola University of New Orleans. The panel presented on new data pertaining to the eviction crisis in New Orleans and its particular impacts on neighborhoods of color. Simultaneously, Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, led attendees through facts and statistics about climate disasters and their impact on housing. Using case studies from Hurricanes Katrina and Maria as well as the BP Oil Drilling Disaster, Battle painted a clear and urgent picture of the problem and what needs to be done to address it. The third breakout session featured Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of GNOFHAC;  Amber Kimble, of Louisiana Trans Advocates and Baton Rouge PFLAG; and S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal, Attorney and Founder of The O’Neal Law Group. These panelists discussed the legal and community-based approaches to protecting the rights of LGBTQ communities.

After three engaging and enlightening sessions on current efforts and the work remaining, GNOFHAC took a moment to recognize individuals who are going above and beyond to contribute to fair housing work through an annual award ceremony. The Award for Courage recognized Cynthia Kilpatrick for her bravery in defending her family’s right to fair housing after she was discriminated against based on the number of children she has. The Fair Housing Hero Award was a new award introduced at this year’s summit and awarded to the Tulane Law School Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic, for their consistent and dedicated work representing clients in fair housing cases. Lastly, the Mondale-Brooke Award for Fair Housing Leadership and Civic Participation was granted to state senator Ed Price, for his dedicated work to pass the statewide security deposit reforms, which went into effect January 1, 2019.

After the awards ceremony, GNOFHAC welcomed the legendary civil rights activist Diane Nash to the stage for an inspirational and empowering keynote address. Nash spoke of her work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and brought the audience on a journey to understand the strategy behind lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides. Her words led into the final action session, “You are the Movement” which provided attendees with concrete action steps to take immediately to advance the fair housing movement in Louisiana. To keep up with the fight for fair housing, follow us on social media and sign up for our mailing list, where you’ll be notified of action alerts and ways to stay involved.

Judge Rules against Uptown Landlord: Sex Discrimination Case will Continue

Posted on 04. Feb, 2019 by in Blog

A federal judge denied Jerry Kelly Jr.’s motion to dismiss the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center’s (GNOFHAC’s) lawsuit. In the suit, GNOFHAC alleges that Mr. Kelly sexually harassed female tenants and discriminated against prospective male tenants by exhibiting a preference for renting to young women.

In Mr. Kelly’s motion to dismiss the case, he asked to strike the allegations that, among other things, he demanded dates from tenants, grabbed the buttocks of a woman during a lease-signing meeting, and entered a unit without notice while a tenant was showering. The judge denied each of Mr. Kelly’s requests and ruled that GNOFHAC’s case against Mr. Kelly could proceed.

Shortly after GNOFHAC filed the complaint in August of 2018, Mr. Kelly told a New Orleans Advocate reporter that he “likes to keep [one of his properties] with just girls.” GNOFHAC’s undercover investigation of Mr. Kelly’s rental practices found that Mr. Kelly promptly and reliably returned the calls of female mystery shoppers and met with them in person about the advertised apartment units, but did not return any phone calls from male mystery shoppers.

“We’re grateful to see this suit move forward and the Fair Housing Action Center continues to stand with former tenants who have alleged that Mr. Kelly has engaged in unlawful housing discrimination,” said executive director Cashauna Hill. “We urge any person with knowledge of similar behavior to report their suspicions to GNOFHAC,” she continued.

See the judge’s full ruling here.

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The work that provided the basis for this release was supported, in part, by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this release. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government. 

The real Smart Housing Mix is not voluntary

Posted on 22. Jan, 2019 by in Blog

American Can tenants rally against evictions in 2016. The City of New Orleans provided $29 million in subsidies to the developer, but tenants in the affordable units were still displaced. (Photo credit: WGNO.com)

While there’s no debating that New Orleans is in the grip of an affordable housing crisis, there are still some people arguing that more give-aways to real estate developers will somehow correct the problem.

Let’s be very clear: including affordable housing in every new housing development or renovation must be the law, not an option and not voluntary. Developers have proven with their inaction that they will not voluntarily be a part of the solution.

Fair market rents have risen by 50 percent since 2000 while wages remain stagnant, and there are currently 35,000 people on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Even though the City Council previously offered developers voluntary incentives to hold some apartments affordable to average worker, developers haven’t taken advantage of it. That’s why the City Planning Commission (CPC) staff argued in their 2017 study that New Orleans needs the Smart Housing Mix ordinance, which would require apartment and condo developers to include affordable units in their new buildings. The study cited 500 jurisdictions with similar policies before recommending a balanced approach of mandating affordable units while also offering zoning or tax incentives for developers to build these units.   

Only Initiative 2 is mandatory

In August the Council directed the CPC staff to provide text amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which sets the rules and regulations for all property development in New Orleans, in order to add in three potential Smart Housing Mix initiatives. While all three initiatives were described as “mandatory,” only the second initiative really is.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the three initiatives:

  1. Establish a mandatory inclusionary zoning overlay district. This would create zoning requirements for including affordable units in certain parts of the city where there are shortages of these units. But this initiative would only be mandatory if a developer wanted a zoning change. So if a developer wanted to build market rate apartments and didn’t request a zoning change, then the project would go forward without any affordable units.
  2. Create a new mandatory inclusionary base zoning district. This initiative is the real Smart Housing Mix. If passed, it would allow the City Council to create a new zoning district and maps in certain areas of the city, making it mandatory that ALL new construction or rehabilitation projects of 10 or more units include homes affordable to the average worker. The Council would first vote on what percentage of units would be affordable and what incentives to offer developers. They would then take a second vote on the maps where the new policy would apply.  
  3. Create a mandatory inclusionary zoning planned development classification. This initiative would allow for flexible zoning regulations for large development projects that include affordable housing. This is an excellent initiative for developers who are already planning on affordable units, because it could mean a faster approval process. However, a developer can still go forward on a project without any affordable component. The project would simply have to follow normal zoning regulations.

Initiatives one and three should really be considered voluntary, because both would allow developers to build projects without any affordable units as long as they weren’t seeking a zoning change or flexible regulations. The 2017 CPC study concluded that only initiative two—the Smart Housing Mix—with its mandatory inclusion of affordable units, will effectively produce the homes that our people need to continue calling New Orleans home. 

The CPC recently completed its work, and the next step will be for the City Council to vote on the three initiatives. If you want the Smart Housing Mix to truly be effective, please call your Councilmember today and tell them that we can only fix the mix if initiative two is passed.