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The HUD LGBT Rule

Posted on 14. May, 2012 by in Education Media & Pubs, Enforcement Media & Pubs, Reports

In March, 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a new rule that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status in HUD housing programs.  Read the full text of the rule here, or see GNOFHAC’s fact sheet and HUD’s fact sheet on the rule below.

HUD fact sheetDownload LGBT Rule Fact Sheet

On April 11, 2012 GNOFHAC held a community forum to discuss the new LGBT rule.  Below are some questions that arose during the event and their answers.

1.  Where does the definition of sexual orientation (and gender identity) come from? Some individuals felt that they do not identify as homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, and that this definition could be seen as limiting.

The definition of sexual orientation came from a publication by the Office of Personnel Management entitled, ‘‘Addressing Sexual Orientation in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employee Rights.’’  The definition of gender identity came from the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. During the comment period for the rule, a few commenters expressed concerns similar to those of the individuals at your presentation: that the definitions were too limiting and could exclude people. However, HUD felt it was best to use definitions already set in federal policy, and stated in the final rule that “HUD seeks to experience how (these) term(s) will work in practice before making changes to a definition currently established in federal policy.”
2.  It seems limiting that the rule is called the “LGBT rule” which de-emphasizes the marital status part of the rule.  It’s a missed opportunity to focus on the widespread impact of the marital status clause on LGBT and non-LGBT individuals. Could you explain why it is called the LGBT rule?

“LGBT Rule” is really just the shorthand nickname that HUD has taken to using, mainly because its full name is a mouthful. That being said, others have taken to calling it the “Equal Access” rule, to emphasize that the rule covers not just LGBT individuals, but unmarried heterosexual (or homosexual) couples. Regardless of its shorthand name, our education and outreach efforts around the rule strive to teach the public about the contents of the rule, which of course includes protections of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status.
3.  Will the Church challenge this rule, especially the provision that religious organizations that receive HUD funding must comply?

Religious institutions (and the public generally) had the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule’s content during the notice and comment period, which occurred from January to March 2011. Now that the rule has been made final, there is no administrative way to challenge the rule. If a religious organization (or any other organization) does not want to comply with the rule, they can make the choice to not pursue HUD funds. If the entity receives funds, they must comply with the rule.
4.  Do those at HUD foresee this redefinition of family leading to the expansion of the definition of family in other program areas, like education and employment (ex. Arizona school systems have an expanded definition of family because of the cultural diversity within the community.)

We at HUD can’t really speculate if other agencies, federal or state, will clarify or modify the definition of “family” that is used in their programs. However, as HUD is the first agency to initiate rulemaking to ensure that its core programs are open to all individuals regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status, we hope that our rule can serve as a model for other agencies when they consider how to ensure equal access to their programs.

 

Strategies To Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Proposals for the City of New Orleans

Posted on 27. Apr, 2011 by in 2011 News, Enforcement Media & Pubs, Enforcement News, News, Reports

On April 27, 2011, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and national partner the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) released a handbook entitled “Strategies to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Proposals for the City of New Orleans Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance and Beyond” to address impediments to fair housing in New Orleans. Copies of the handbook have been distributed to members and staff of the City Planning Commission (CPC). GNOFHAC hopes that Commission members will adopt the suggestions laid out in the handbook in the development of the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance in order to ensure a more just, economically integrated, and livable New Orleans.

Download report

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2009 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) Opportunity Mapping Project

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by in Education Media & Pubs, Enforcement Media & Pubs, Reports

ABOUT THE PROJECT

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and mapping specialists at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University have created a series of maps that overlay Housing Authority of New Orleans’ (HANO) data showing the locations of Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) properties, on opportunity maps of Orleans Parish. The goal is to evaluate whether the HCVP program is achieving its goals of providing increased housing choice to low-income families, and economically integrating neighborhoods.

Maps show that properties voluntarily listed by landlords on HANO’s HCVP property list are concentrated in low and very low opportunity areas of the city.

GNOFHAC’s 2009 HCVP Opportunity Map represents a follow-up to its August 2009 audit Housing Choice in Crisis: An Audit Report on Discrimination Against Housing Choice Voucher Holders in the Greater New Orleans Rental Housing Market, which found through testing that housing providers discriminated against Housing Choice Voucher holders 82% of the time. The 2009 HCVP Opportunity Map represents a first look at an ongoing project; GNOFHAC will be releasing a new version that uses 2010 Census data and additional indicators as they become available.

THE MAPS (click to view larger image)

NOLA 2 Bdrm

NOLA 3 Bdrm

Maps were created using opportunity indicators in five categories: Educational Quality and Opportunity, Economic Health and Mobility, Housing and Neighborhood Stability, Public Health Access, and Environmental Quality.

* Note: Listings were obtained from HANO’s website in October, 2009 and contain properties that housing providers have submitted to HANO as available to tenants using HCVP vouchers. HANO includes a disclaimer on the list that it does not certify the condition or availability of any property listed or that any of the properties will pass the Housing Quality Standards Inspections. The listings do not represent where vouchers are currently being used or all properties where it is possible to use a voucher.

WHAT THE MAPS SHOW (click to view larger image)

Section 8 Distribution

The maps show that the majority of Section 8 properties listed on HANO’s website are located in low and very low opportunity areas. Approximately 62% of 1 and 2-bedroom Section 8 properties are located in low and very low opportunity areas. Approximately 73% of 3-bedroom and 72% of 4-bedroom Section 8 properties are located in low and very low opportunity areas.

WHAT IS OPPORTUNITY MAPPING?

According to the Kirwan Institute, “Opportunity mapping is a research tool used to understand the dynamics of ‘opportunity’ within metropolitan areas. The purpose of opportunity mapping is to illustrate where opportunity rich communities exist (and assess who has access to these communities) and to understand what needs to be remedied in opportunity poor communities. Opportunity mapping builds upon the rich history of using neighborhood based information and mapping to understand the challenges impacting our neighborhoods.

Mapping opportunity in the region requires selecting variables that are indicative of high (and low) opportunity. In this context, high opportunity indicators would be the availability of sustainable employment, high performing schools, a safe environment, access to high quality health care, adequate transportation, quality child care, safe neighborhoods, and institutions that facilitate civic and political engagement. These multiple indicators of opportunity are assessed in a comprehensive manner at the same geographic scale, thus enabling the production of a comprehensive ‘opportunity map’ for the region.”

Within this framework, high opportunity neighborhoods are not “better” neighborhoods, rather they are neighborhoods where residents have access to a wider range of educational, environmental, economic and political opportunities.

More on opportunity mapping from the Kirwan Institute

THE OPPORTUNITY INDICATORS

GNOFHAC and Kirwan Institute staff chose a variety of indicators to measure “opportunity” in New Orleans post-Katrina. The 2009 HCVP Opportunity Map represents a first look at an ongoing project; GNOFHAC will be releasing a new version that uses 2010 Census data and additional indicators as they become available.

Download the list of indicators here

Questions? Contact us at (504) 596-2100 or email us here.

Housing Choice In Crisis: Discrimination Against Housing Choice Voucher Holders

Posted on 16. Sep, 2009 by in Enforcement Media & Pubs, Reports

Housing Choice in Crisis examined one hundred (100) rental properties in the greater New Orleans area to determine whether available rental units would be offered to voucher holders relying on the HCVP. Rental properties investigated advertised rental rates of $1250 or under for a two-bedroom unit and did not advertise any preference in favor of or against renting to voucher holders. In addition to the audit of rental units for source of income discrimination, Housing Choice in Crisis includes results from a series of interviews with landlords, housing advocates, tenants and administrators to assess the administration of HCVP.

Download the report

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Access Denied: Housing Accessibility for People with Physical Disabilities in the Greater New Orleans Rental Housing Market

Posted on 16. Sep, 2009 by in Enforcement Media & Pubs, Reports

Despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center’s (GNOFHAC) Access Denied 2009 audit report demonstrates that as of April 15, 2009, the greater New Orleans area has not achieved equal housing opportunity for people with physical disabilities. Access Denied documents, describes, and quantifies accessibility barriers which amount to discrimination against people with disabilities in rental housing.

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James Perry to US House of Representatives Financial Services Subcommittee

Posted on 21. Aug, 2009 by in Enforcement Media & Pubs, Staff Testimony

Testimony of James Perry, Executive Director, to the United States House of Representatives Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity on August 21, 2009:

Introduction  

Thank you Congresswoman Waters, Ranking Member Capito, and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify regarding “The Status of the Big 4 Public Housing Developments”, housing challenges facing low income families in New Orleans, and additional affordable housing needs. My names is James Perry. I serve as Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). GNOFHAC is a private, non-profit civil rights organization established in 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination in the greater New Orleans area. Through education, investigation, and enforcement activities, GNOFHAC promotes equal opportunity in all housing transactions, including rental, sales, lending, and insurance. GNOFHAC is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination not only because it is illegal, but also because it is a divisive force that perpetuates poverty, segregation, ignorance, fear, and hatred.

Across the United States, mixed-income communities have been lauded as an effective way to de- concentrate poverty, spur job opportunity, promulgate integration and decrease crime. New Orleans has sought to do the same by demolishing traditional public housing and constructing new mixed income housing. It was the model used to transform the one hundred percent (100%) low-income St. Thomas Public Housing Development into the mixed-income River Gardens apartment complex.

However, a core question surrounding the mixed income model’s success lies far outside the walls of River Gardens or any other mixed-income development in New Orleans because most residents don’t get to return to the new developments. For example, about 1,500 low-income families resided at St. Thomas. But River Gardens, the reincarnation of St. Thomas, only houses about 246 low-income families. Many of the remaining families received Housing Choice Vouchers and were encouraged to rent apartments across New Orleans. The idea was that low-income residents would be integrated across the community solidly establishing New Orleans as a mixed-income community. By subsidizing the amount that a low-income renter can afford, the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) professes to afford low-income residents the opportunity to live in middle and upper-middle income communities.

In a purely academic sense, this may sound ideal. But its real world applicability falls woefully short. The reason? Landlords are not accepting Housing Choice Vouchers. This study found that eighty- two percent (82%) of landlords either outright refused to accept vouchers or added insurmountable requirements for voucher holders making it impossible for voucher holders to rent units. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) has not released much data on the utilization rate of vouchers post-Katrina but it did double the 60-day term that HANO clients usually have to use the vouchers due to tenants’ inability to locate landlords willing to accept the vouchers.

The relative success of the New Orleans metropolitan economy relies on having a diverse population with diverse incomes. For example many employees of the New Orleans hospitality industry have incomes at or below the poverty level and must rely on government housing assistance as a result. Most schoolteachers make incomes low enough to qualify as tenants of low-income housing tax credit developments. Without housing for workers in the hospitality industry or teachers, it will be difficult for our economy to be successful. In 2007, GNO inc., an economic development incubator in New Orleans, estimated that there were approximately 20,000 unfilled hospitality and tourism jobs. When they surveyed likely employees, they found overwhelmingly that prospective employees could not accept the jobs because they could not find and/or afford housing in New Orleans.

New Orleans cannot be successful if all residents cannot find decent, safe, affordable housing. This study clearly indicates that a large cross-section of residents is having significant trouble doing so. Hopefully the presentation of these facts is a step in the important path towards insuring fair housing choice for all New Orleans residents.

Overview of Voucher Programs in New Orleans

The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 created Section 8 Voucher Programs. In 1998, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act consolidated the Section 8 Voucher Programs under the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP). Under the HCVP, voucher holders secure rental housing from private housing providers and contribute up to thirty (30) percent of their income to cover the cost of rent. Local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) manage the HCVP and pay the difference between thirty (30) percent of a voucher holder’s income and the Fair Market Rent (FMR). Eligible households generally must have incomes that fall below fifty (50) percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). The HCVP relies on the private market to meet the housing needs of low-income residents. The program is designed to provide low-income residents with more housing choices, that might ultimately help to de-concentrate poverty and better integrate neighborhoods.

Starting in the mid-1990s, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), like many other PHAs around the country, launched a redevelopment effort in its public housing developments that coupled a reduction in the number of public housing units with an increase in the number of housing vouchers issued. Due to persistent mismanagement, HANO has been in federal receivership under HUD’s management since 2002.    In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, HANO and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are aggressively furthering a campaign that involves an increased reliance on tenant-­‐based vouchers in the New Orleans area with the demolition of the B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete, Lafitte, and St. Bernard housing developments, and the planned redevelopment of mixed-income communities with significantly fewer public housing units. In April 2009, the Office of Inspector General released an audit report that found decisively that HUD could not demonstrate that its receivership had improved HANO’s performance.

Currently, 8,975 households in the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) participate in the HCVP. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of voucher holders in Orleans Parish are African American. A breakdown of HCVP data by Parish is available in the HUD Resident Characteristics Report in the Appendix.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) launched a voucher program to assist displaced families in need of housing, and in 2007, HUD assumed management of the program called the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP). HUD has been working with local housing authorities since early 2008 to transition families off of the DHAP program, and although the Obama administration has issued a limited two-month extension for voucher-holders that have applied for the transition, the DHAP program is set to end August 31, 2009. Income eligible families are to receive traditional Housing Choice Vouchers, however many families in need of ongoing assistance are not eligible for the transition, many families have not been able to complete the transition process due to administrative delays at PHAs, and some families eligible for the transition have not engaged in the process.

Summary of the Problem

Housing Choice in Crisis is an investigation of bias against Housing Choice Voucher holders in the greater New Orleans rental housing market. Though discrimination on the basis of a renter’s source of income is not currently illegal, it is important to understand the rate at which voucher holders encounter discrimination in evaluating the functionality of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP).

Housing Choice in Crisis examined one hundred (100) rental properties in the greater New Orleans area to determine whether available rental units would be offered to voucher holders relying on the HCVP. Rental properties investigated advertised rental rates of $1250 or under for a two-bedroom unit and did not advertise any preference in favor of or against renting to voucher holders. In addition to the audit of rental units for source of income discrimination, Housing Choice in Crisis includes results from a series of interviews with landlords, housing advocates, tenants and administrators to assess the administration of HCVP.

Landlords denied voucher holders the opportunity to rent units eighty-two percent (82%) of the time, either by outright refusal to accept vouchers or by the addition of insurmountable requirements for voucher holders making it impossible for voucher holders to rent units. Landlords refused to accept housing vouchers seventy-five percent (75%) of the time, and of the twenty-five percent (25%) of the landlords that purported to accept Housing Choice Vouchers, seven percent (7%) imposed additional conditions that would have made it nearly impossible for a voucher holder to rent the property. Therefore, housing providers said they would accept vouchers as a rental payment without any obstacles or additional terms or conditions only eighteen percent (18%) of the time.

The data demonstrates that the alarming rate of discrimination against voucher holders is driven by two primary causes: discrimination against and stereotypes of low-income, African Americans and dysfunctional administration of the HCVP. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) has proposed several recommendations that would reduce the alarming rate of source of income discrimination in the region.
As federal and regional housing policy increasingly relies upon the voucher program as a solution to our affordable housing needs, it is critical that we confront prejudice harbored against voucher holders and rectify the dysfunctional administration of the program. Confronting the problem of extensive discrimination against voucher holders will require a coordinated effort among public and private actors.

Testing and Investigation Methodology

One hundred (100) phone-tests were conducted during the three-month period of May to August 2009 across the New Orleans metropolitan area to determine whether available rental units would be offered to voucher holders relying on the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP). Testers (persons trained to pose as apartment-seekers) were given substantially similar profiles that demonstrated they were qualified to rent the apartments in question. Testers made inquiries about matters such as the availability of the advertised unit and the rental terms and conditions.
Phone tests were performed in three stages. The first stage was conducted using a white tester without a housing voucher. In the second stage, a white female tester posing as a voucher holder contacted the landlord. The tester in the third stage was an African American female voucher holder.
The United States Supreme Court has upheld the use of the testing process as a legal and effective tool to investigate claims of housing discrimination. Both the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) use testing to conduct investigations.

All testers received standardized training from the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. The training included both classroom and field training. Testers are taught to be objective fact- finders and to report, but not interpret, the results of their test.

Selection of Sites

Rental property advertisements selected for testing were identified in four (4) regional publications: Nola.com, Gambit, Craigslist.org, and Renter’s Guide. Rental properties were selected at random subject to two criteria. First, testing was limited to units with an advertised rental rate of $1250 or below for a two-bedroom unit, such that the properties would be affordable to voucher-holding households. Second, selection was limited to properties that did not advertise any preference in favor of or against renting to voucher holders. The sites were then selected at random, sampling from parishes within the greater New Orleans metropolitan area.

Interviews with Landlord, Housing Advocates, Administrators and Tenants

A set of interviews was carried out with housing providers that advertised in the four regional publications listed above, who explicitly indicated whether they engage in or refrain from participating in the HCVP. Landlords were asked to rate their experiences with and perceptions of the HCVP. Eighteen (18) landlords were contacted. Interviews with landlords were conducted by telephone in a one-week period in August 2009. This report was also informed by eight (8) interviews of housing advocates and administrators from June to August 2009, including the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Louisiana Recovery Authority, Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Tulane Civil Litigation Clinic, GNO Community Data Center, Urban Institute, and Policylink. Information on tenant experiences with the HCVP was assembled using a questionnaire that was distributed to legal aid and social service agencies, and from documentary film footage of four (4) years of interviews with voucher holders by JoLu Productions.

Testing Results – Findings  

In the one hundred (100) phone tests performed, landlords outright refused to accept vouchers or added insurmountable requirements for voucher holders eighty-two percent (82%) of the time.

Landlords provided varying reasons for their refusal to rent to voucher holders. Explanations that commonly arose among respondents included fear of not receiving rental payments or security deposits, and past experiences or problems working with the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) office. The statements housing providers expressly made to prospective tenants are not exhaustive of the possible reasons that voucher holders were denied. Specifically, since a vast majority of voucher holders are African American, it is unlikely that prejudice imbued in the rental unit denial was expressed to the prospective tenants. As ninety-nine percent (99%) of Housing Choice Voucher holders in Orleans Parish are African American, an eighty-two percent (82%) rate of discrimination has a clear discriminatory impact on race, a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.

Housing providers said they would accept vouchers as a rental payment without any obstacles or additional terms or conditions only eighteen percent (18%) of the time.

Additional Terms and Conditions for Voucher Holders

Of the twenty-five (25) landlords that accepted Housing Choice Vouchers, seven (7) imposed additional conditions. Additional conditions included fees or rental deposits, or a more rigorous rental-screening process that were not required of non-voucher holders. In most cases, the effects of an additional security deposit would make it nearly impossible for a voucher holder to rent the property, making such additional requirements tantamount to a denial of the unit.

Testers were informed by four (4) landlords that they would only accept voucher holders if their voucher amount was more than the advertised rent, which would enable the landlord to collect additional rental monies above their asking price. Contrary to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policy, one landlord stated that the rental amount advertised was for “cash paying tenants” and that if a voucher holder rented the unit, the price would increase to be equal to the voucher amount of $1030. The landlord also asserted that the tester should not worry about the higher price because “no money would be coming out of [the voucher holder’s] pocket.”

Heightened Discretion

Housing providers used additional discretionary measures with housing voucher holders during this study. Landlords stated that they would allow a voucher holder to live on their property only after having met them or that it would “depend on the person.” Two landlords indicated to white voucher holders that although they did not normally accept housing vouchers, the tester sounded “nice” and therefore they would consider renting to them.

Statements like this, when they indicate a preference based on race, are illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act and enforceable in federal court. These discretionary tactics often serve as a pretext for discrimination against marginalized groups. This is especially true for families with children and African American female heads of households, who are the primary users of housing vouchers in the New Orleans area.

Racial Discrimination

In nine percent (9%) of tests in which a tenant was denied a voucher, landlords denied African American testers on the basis of their voucher after having previously told a white tester that rental vouchers were taken at the property. As evidenced by the pervasive source of income discrimination highlighted in this audit, voucher holders face extreme challenges when locating housing providers that accept rental voucher payments. In addition, the challenge voucher holders face when securing housing increases when the home seeker is African American. Such additional discriminatory practices further shrink the number of available rental properties, further removing the “choice” in the HCVP. This has broad implications for the HCVP in New Orleans, since ninety-nine percent (99%) of voucher holders are African American.

A.  The Discrimination Against Voucher Holders Reflects: Discrimination Against Low-income African Americans in Both Intent and Impact
The findings from the present study indicate that the alarming rate of discrimination against voucher holders in the greater New Orleans housing market is generated in part by intentional housing discrimination against African Americans, and results in discrimination in the form of disparate impact upon African Americans. One of the primary reasons voucher holders experience a high rate of discrimination in the New Orleans area is because of prejudice harbored by housing providers against low-income, African American voucher holders.

The discriminatory intent behind the denial of voucher holders is clear from surveys conducted with housing providers in the greater New Orleans area, which revealed prominent stereotypes in the perceptions of Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) participants. A majority of the landlords surveyed identified voucher holders in a racially coded fashion, such as wearing “dreadlocks,” a hairstyle common in the African American community. When one housing provider was asked whether there were any changes that could be made to the voucher program that would make him reconsider his decision to refrain from program participation, he responded, “[not] until Black ministers…start teaching morals and ethics to their own, so they don’t have litters of pups like animals, and they’re not milking the system.” In spite of the fact that voucher holders must contribute thirty percent (30%) or more of their income towards rent, the use of racially explicit and coded language was coupled with the perception that voucher holders “don’t want to work” and are “fraudulent.”

A component of the high rate of discrimination found against voucher holders was derived in part from discrimination purely on the basis of race. In other words, in nine percent (9%) of instances housing providers agreed to offer housing to a white voucher holder while denying housing to an African American voucher holder.

Racial and class stereotypes hold that low-income African Americans import social problems, including unemployment, crime, drugs, and unstable families, and that these problems will ultimately disrupt life in a neighborhood and lower property values. See Beck, Gina Kline, “Thompson v. HUD: Groundbreaking Housing Desegregation Litigation, and the Significant Task Ahead of Achieving an Effective Desegregation Remedy Without Engendering New Social Harms,” 7 University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class (2007). The prejudice that links African Americans and the social ills of the inner city can cause a landlords to believe they are exposing their property to an increased risk from those harms when considering a tenant in the voucher program. George C. Galster, The Evolving Challenges of Fair Housing Since 1968, 4 CITYSCAPE 123, 130 (1999).

In addition, the fact that landlords denied voucher holders from renting units at the alarming rate of eighty-two percent (82%) results in a discriminatory disparate impact upon African Americans. Since ninety-nine percent (99%) of Orleans Parish voucher holders are African American, discrimination against voucher holders in general results in a discriminatory impact on African Americans.

B.    The Discrimination Against Voucher Holders Reflects: The Dysfunctional Administration of the Housing Choice Voucher Program
A second reason voucher holders experience a high rate of discrimination in the New Orleans area is because dysfunctional administration of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) deters housing providers from engaging in the program. Both small and large-scale housing providers interviewed reported extreme delays and failures of Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to make rent payments. They reported HANO staff is often hard to reach, discourteous, slow and unhelpful.

The general sentiment of housing providers surveyed was summarized in one small-landlord’s description of HANO as “very unorganized, very arrogant, very slow, and not helpful.” Another small-landlord stated, “applying is easy, dealing with HANO is not.” A central problem identified is the extreme difficulty in communicating with HANO staff. One small-landlord stated, “I faxed HANO the needed information 12 times for the rent I was never paid,” and another small-landlord stated that he “never could get anyone on the phone at HANO.” In a common sentiment, a housing provider explained, “I called everyday for a month and never once got a call back.” Larger housing providers echoed similar sentiments.

Housing providers described HANO’s payment process as “very slow” and “extremely slow.” Landlords must ensure their units meet certain Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-mandated habitability standards, and the housing authority is required to make a yearly inspection. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.404(a). Small and large-scale landlords stated that it takes HANO one (1) to two (2) weeks to have an initial habitability inspection conducted. After the landlord and tenant negotiate the rent, the housing authority must give final approval of the contract. See 24 C.F.R. §§ 982.308, 982.305. Housing providers commonly stated that it takes as much as two (2) to three (3) months before HANO signs a lease, and that it consistently takes 6-8 weeks to sign a contract. One small-landlord stated, “I passed an inspection on June 9th and didn’t get paid till August 11th.”

In some instances, housing providers reported HANO simply did not tender payment that was due on a voucher contract. One small-landlord interviewed complained, “HANO owes me $3,000 for the last tenant I accepted. I did not get paid for a day of their lease, and the hassle of getting the money is not worth the effort.” A large-scale housing provider indicated that, in part as a result of the backlog from the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) transition, HANO owes his management company upwards of $25,000 in rent associated with vouchers. A landlord cannot take action against a tenant for non-payment if the housing authority has failed to pay the subsidized portion of the rent but the tenant has paid his contribution on schedule. Therefore, in instances where HANO fails to pay its portion of the rent in a timely fashion, there is no clear recourse for demanding payment from HANO by the landlord. Thus, in many reported instances, when voucher holders were able to secure a unit (18% of the time), landlords were left with no recourse but to evict the low-income tenant, who had been paying his or her portion of the rent.

Recommendations

This study examines the rate of acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers by landlords in the New Orleans metropolitan area.    An alarming eighty-two percent (82%) of landlords refused to accept the vouchers or added insurmountable requirements for voucher holders. In order to better serve the low- income rental housing needs in the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) makes the following recommendations.

1) Housing analysts should implement a study of whether the HCVP in New Orleans is meeting its stated goals of increasing integration and enhancing access to opportunity.

The stated goals of the HCVP are to de-concentrate poverty and promote racial integration. 42 U.S.C. § 5301 (1988). However, due to the extremely high levels of discrimination faced by vouchers holders highlighted in this report, HCVP participants are more likely driven to locate housing in high-poverty areas with few opportunities, thereby fundamentally thwarting the goals of the voucher program.

Further analysis should be conducted into whether the HCVP is meeting its stated goals of de- concentrating poverty and promoting integration in the region, or whether it is further perpetuating the systems of concentrated poverty that it is meant to address. An interviewed voucher holder stated, that they “cannot find affordable housing in a nice neighborhood.” As a result of extensive discrimination and limited choice, there is the possibility that the voucher program is disrupting existing support networks, while forcing voucher holders to reside in high-poverty areas.
Researchers should further examine formal and informal resource opportunities and networks available to low-income residents. Analysts should consider sociological factors like the reluctance of voucher holders to move from areas where they have family or social ties. One voucher holder describes her former experience living in public housing: “Despite the problems we had, we still got together, social events as families, as a community. I would prefer to be here than on a voucher.” Policymakers should then consider these support networks in designing the structure and administration of housing policy.

2) The federal government should immediately intervene to rectify problems with the administration of voucher programs in New Orleans.
HANO’s administration of the HCVP and of the transition from DHAP to HCVP is excessively dysfunctional. This finding stands in direct contrast to public statements made by HANO and HUD officials, who tend to blame processing delays and errors on tenants and property owners for not correctly engaging in the process. See Katy Reckdahl, “Rents rise as HANO trudges through transition,” Times-Picayune, July 13, 2009.
The federal government should immediately commission an independent investigation into the alleged dysfunction of the HCVP in the greater New Orleans region. Housing experts and local housing providers interviewed in this investigation stated that HANO’s ineffectiveness and dysfunction related to its limited capacity, especially in regards to the massive DHAP transition it is helping to manage. Tenants cited a consistent inability to reach HANO representatives on the phone, and many felt mistreated or neglected. One voucher holder described, “Some of the workers back there do not do their jobs… and gives the clients a hard time.” Therefore, this investigation should specifically examine issues of capacity, especially in terms of staff and training, and measures should be implemented to ensure that HANO has the staff and training needed complete an acceptable DHAP to HCVP transfer by the end of October 2009.

3) HUD should work in partnership with local officials and HCVP participants to develop the HANO Board of Directors to enhance oversight of HANO administration.

HANO has been under HUD receivership since 2002, and while under receivership, HANO’s board of commissioners has consisted of one HUD-appointed official from Washington, DC, rather than a local board of directors.

In a December 2007 letter to HUD, Mayor C. Ray Nagin stipulated that demolition permits for two of the largest public housing complexes in the city would only be granted after the “expansion of the HANO Board from one member to three members, to include the Mayor or his designee and a public housing resident.” However, the stipulation that HUD reorganize HANO oversight to include a three-member panel was not instituted even as demolition proceeded.

In an April 2009 report, the Office of Inspector General recommended that HUD “appoint a monitoring team, independent of the receiver, to ensure that [HANO] progresses toward local control.”

HUD and HANO should undergo a process to establish a three-member board of directors or a full local board in order to create greater accountability for the shortcomings of HANO’s administration.

4) The federal government, the State of Louisiana and local municipalities should adopt legislation that prohibits Source of Income discrimination.
The present study finds that landlords deny housing to applicants because they are voucher-holders in eighty-two percent (82%) of the cases investigated. This figure indicates that significant portions of the private housing market remain unavailable to voucher holders in need of quality housing in high opportunity areas. One tenant attested that he “cannot find affordable housing in a nice neighborhood, or comfortable homes” that will accept his Housing Choice Voucher. Another tenant confirmed that, “HANO didn’t do nothing for me yet. They gave me [a voucher] but everywhere I went I couldn’t use it.”.

The federal government, the State of Louisiana and municipal leaders in the New Orleans metropolitan area should establish task-forces to investigate the impact of source of income discrimination on the operation of the HCVP, and federal, state and municipal officials should adopt legislation that establishes “source of income” as a protected class in federal, state and municipal fair housing laws in order to ensure that the HCVP operates effectively in the region.

5) Local and national foundations should fund a public education campaign to address the prejudice surrounding voucher holders.
Research conducted during the course of the present study indicates that many people have strong prejudices against voucher holders, which severely limits the effective operation of the HCVP in the New Orleans metro area. Many of these prejudices are based in and relate to stereotypes about low- income African Americans. The observed animosity toward voucher holders is also fueled by misinformation about HCVP participant requirements and the widespread need for housing assistance throughout the New Orleans area.

The New Orleans regional economy relies upon many low-wage jobs in order to function. Much of the housing that low-wage workers occupied before Katrina was lost in the storm, and rents have since escalated by an average of forty percent (40%). See the GNO Community Data Center August 2009 New Orleans Index. All able-bodied HCVP participants must meet income requirements, which require that families pay thirty percent (30%) their household income in rent. Voucher holders are necessary to the operation of the regional economy, but they could not afford to live in the region without a housing subsidy. Voucher holders whose testimony appears in this report include a school security guard, a cook at a local restaurant, and a construction worker. As one tenant put it, “Even though you’re working, you’re not making really enough to really help pay bills, take care of your family. And once your expenses starts taking practically everything you make [to pay for rent, utilities, security deposit, and moving expenses], you have nothing to live on.”

Funding should be provided for a media and public education campaign that informs the public of these dynamics, and confronts the prejudice against voucher holders.

6) HUD should institute a moratorium on the demolition of additional hard units of public housing in the New Orleans region until it is sure that the HCVP is performing properly.

Interviews with housing advocates, analysts, and tenants in the present study indicated that the structure of the HCVP fails to consider tenant burdens, such as the need to pay for security deposits, utility expenses, moving costs, and the modification of units in the private market for people with physical disabilities. An interviewed voucher holder stated, “Some of the landlords are not giving you a stove [or] refrigerator… when you were staying at HANO they supplied all that for you.” Another voucher holder stated, “My utilities run like $445. That’s just for electric. I have water bill and then it costs $50 to cut my yard… It’s too much… I don’t know how I’m going to pay it… My light bill exceeds my income.” These expenses are generally covered for public housing residents, however they are difficult for voucher holders who are extremely low-income, elderly, or have disabilities, and in some cases preclude their participation in the program. Generally similar needs would be better attended to in hard units of public housing. However, with 4000 units of public housing demolished, there are few opportunities for people who are extremely low-income, elderly, and/or have disabilities.

Additional analysis is needed to further understand how these expenses impede the delivery of appropriate housing options for all groups eligible for assistance. There is a significant need for affordable housing throughout the region due to the tremendous loss of rental housing during Hurricane Katrina, and until there is a full assessment of the operation of the HCVP and the need for appropriate housing options in the region, HUD should impose a moratorium on the demolition of hard units of public housing in the greater New Orleans area.

7) HUD should analyze the possibility of taking a regional approach to voucher administration, rather than segmentation by individual Public Housing Authorities.

HCVP vouchers are “portable,” meaning that they can be transferred from one jurisdiction to another in accordance with the policies of Public Housing Authorities (PHA). However, management of voucher program enrollment among area-PHAs and voucher transfer between area-PHAs is not coordinated, thus limiting and complicating housing choice for voucher holders in the region.

A voucher holder looking at several neighborhoods in the New Orleans metro area may find themselves under the jurisdiction of a number of different PHAs. HANO currently accepts voucher transfers from other jurisdictions in the region, however neighboring jurisdictions do not as readily accept transfers. Therefore, voucher holders face limited regional choice, hampering economic and racial integration on a regional level.
Analysis should be done to better understand the impact that metro-area PHA policies have on housing choice and to consider the possibility of establishing a “single point of access” for voucher applicants in a metro area with a joint waiting list and set of resources. Recommendations should be identified to institute the HCVP on a regional level in a manner that promotes regional integration and undermines the discriminatory actions of neighboring parishes.

8) HUD needs to address DHAP families facing housing crisis, and the federal government should commission a study of the operation of DHAP and how it could be better designed for future disasters.

HUD recently announced that it plans to assist eligible families in the DHAP program through October 2009. Service providers and public administrators indicated that greater communication is needed between local, federal, and state officials to ensure that families facing housing insecurity at the end of the DHAP program, including families that are both eligible and ineligible for transition to the HCVP, receive the support they need to transition out of the program successfully.

This will have to involve effective case management, better communication between involved agencies, and supporting local PHAs with an increase in staff and training to ensure that the housing authorities are able to complete the DHAP to HCVP transition.

Additionally, the federal government should commission a study of the post-Katrina voucher assistance programs – including Katrina Disaster Housing Assistance Payment Program, Disaster Voucher Program, and Disaster Housing Assistance Program – and issue a set of proposals that will yield a more effective program in the event of future disasters.

9) HANO and other area PHAs should implement services to support voucher holders in their efforts to locate housing and attract quality landlords to the HCVP.

Families who receive a voucher under the HCVP are independently responsible for locating an acceptable rental unit. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.302. For residents leaving traditional public housing, using a voucher may be their first interaction with the private housing market. While the PHA may provide guidance – HANO’s only support is a listing of units whose owners wish to participate in the program. Voucher holders must make contact with the landlords and initiate the rental process. Voucher holders are left to identify housing through their own means, often without reliable transportation, sufficient time away from work, or full knowledge of available residential communities or opportunities.

The challenge of locating housing is even more of a burden in a post-Katrina context as low-income residents still displaced may have a difficult time traveling back and forth from wherever they currently reside to locate habitable housing with a voucher in New Orleans. This is particularly true, given the limited supply of post-Katrina rental housing, the number of visits to the HANO office that are often required, and the fact that inspections and paperwork expire after a period of time.

Area PHAs should implement services to support voucher holders in their efforts to locate housing and attract quality landlords to the HCVP. Early programs like the Gatreaux initiative in Chicago, which partially inspired the HCVP, relied on providing intensive case management and education to program participants. Later manifestations of voucher programs omitted these programmatic supports. However, if the HCVP is to provide adequate housing choices, voucher holders must be empowered to navigate the private housing market.

10) HANO and other area Public Housing Authorities should implement services to proactively and reactively resolve housing authority administration disputes and frustrations.  HANO and other area-PHAs must also implement outreach techniques and service delivery that attract quality landlords to participate in the HCVP. Audit results indicate that, among housing providers, HANO has a bad reputation due to poor customer service and untimely rent payment.  HANO and other area-PHA should establish a meaningful structure for initiating input from the stakeholders involved in the HCVP. The high rate of discrimination is a symptom of distrust among the various actors within the program—housing authorities, housing providers, and tenants.  HANO and other area PHAs should also consider creating an ombudsman office so that both voucher holders and property owners can resolve issues with housing authority administration in meaningful ways on an individual, case-by-case basis. A process for effectively resolving disputes and frustrations is critical to the proper functioning of the HCVP.

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James Perry to the House Committee on the Judiciary

Posted on 29. Jul, 2008 by in Enforcement Media & Pubs, Homeownership Protection Media & Pubs, Staff Testimony

Testimony of James Perry, Executive Director, to the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Committee on the Judiciary Thursday, July 29, 2010:

Introduction

Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Sensenbrenner, and members of the Committee, thankyou for the opportunity to testify regarding fair housing and the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. My name is James Perry. I serve as Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). GNOFHAC is a private, non-profit civil rights organization established in 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination in the greater New Orleans area. Through education, investigation, and enforcement activities, GNOFHAC promotes equal opportunity in all housing transactions, including rental, sales, lending, and insurance. GNOFHAC is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination not only because it is illegal, but also because it is a divisive force that perpetuates poverty, segregation, ignorance, fear, and hatred. I also serve as President of the Louisiana Housing Alliance, a statewide coalition of housing advocates, non-profit housing providers, homeless service providers, advocacy organizations and
local housing coalitions. We work to insure adequate affordable and low-income housing opportunities in Louisiana.  August 29, 2010 will be the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Five years ago, America’s Gulf Coast was decimated by the Hurricane and hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced. Each day since August 29th, Gulf Coast residents have struggled to rebuild and reclaim their lives. Regretfully, people with disabilities, families with children, low-income families and people of color have been confronted with shocking barriers that have slowed and in some cases, completely thwarted their recovery.

Many of us are familiar with the typical stories of landlords, realtors and lenders engaging in individual acts of discrimination. While these problems certainly persist along America’s Gulf Coast, a disconcerting trend has developed. The most egregious cases of discrimination have been perpetrated by government actors entrusted to serve the very communities that they have discriminated against. From Louisiana’s HUD approved discriminatory Road Home program to St. Bernard Parish’s rental ordinance essentially banning black renters and on to FEMA’s disaster resource website featuring discriminatory housing advertisements, government policies and actions have stunted recovery for scores of thousands of Gulf Coast residents.

Road Home Program

In the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina, it became painfully obvious that the insurance industry was going to fall woefully short of its responsibility to homeowners. As a result, the Road Home program was created to assist Louisiana homeowners affected by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita in rebuilding their homes.1    Congress allocated more than $11 billion in 2 Community Development Block Grant funding to the program.   Since the program’s inception, nearly 230,000 people have applied for assistance.3    The CDBG program funding required that the Road Home Program not only refrain from discrimination, but go a step further by affirmatively furthering fair housing. Regrettably, racial disparities in the Road Home program have caused the program to fail thousands of New Orleans African-American homeowners in their efforts to rebuild their homes. Rather than a Road Home, many black homeowners have found a road leading to despair, inequity and discrimination.

The program’s failure relates to a fundamental flaw in its design: the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) created a recovery program that links housing assistance to the depressed values of black families’ pre-storm segregated housing. Under the terms of the Road Home Program, rebuilding grants are calculated based on the lower of two figures: the pre-storm market value of the home, or the cost to repair the storm damage to the home.  Homes in New Orleans’ black neighborhoods are generally worth less than homes in white neighborhoods. This is largely due to decades of racial discrimination in the Louisiana housing market that has caused and reinforced segregation in residential housing.

In fact, in 2007, my office was able to locate two homes that were essentially identical. Both homes had 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. Both homes were brick construction and flooded with six feet of water in Hurricane Katrina. The only substantial difference is that the home in the white neighborhood was worth approximately $150,000 while the home in the black neighborhood was worth approximately $90,000. The estimated repair cost for each of the homes was more than $200,000 respectively. The home in the white neighborhood received $150,000 in assistance while the assistance to the black homeowner was only $90,000. Amazingly, even though these homeowners had identical homes and identical Katrina damage, the white homeowner received a full $60,000 more than the black homeowner.

Unfortunately this fact pattern is not unique. We estimate that more than 20,000 black New Orleanians received inequitable grant payments under the flawed and discriminatory Road Home formula. Even the former Executive Director of the LRA, Paul Rainwater, agreed that African-Americans were more likely to get payouts based on depressed home values. He attested so at an August 2009 field hearing of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity of the House Committee on Financial Services. The data supports his conclusion. An analysis of Road Home grants from 2008 shows that homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward, a predominantly black neighborhood, faced shortfalls of over $75,000 between the available rebuilding resources and the cost of rebuilding each home. At the same time, homeowners in Lakeview—a predominantly white neighborhood—faced shortfalls of only $44,000 per home.

The bottom-line is that the Road Home program relies on a discriminatory formula that leaves black homeowners with a mere fraction of the funds needed to rebuild their homes. The program, by design, fails New Orleans black homeowners. In 2008, after attempts at negotiating a solution to the discriminatory program failed, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, in partnership with the National Fair Housing Alliance and five named plaintiffs, filed a class action lawsuit against the LRA and HUD over the Road Home Program.    We are represented by the Cohen, Milstein, Sellers and Toll law firm, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Wilmer Hale law firm. The lawsuit alleges that the Road Home Program violates both the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (HCDA). The Fair Housing Act requires housing programs to produce equitable results, regardless of their intent.  And both the Fair Housing Act and the HCDA require HUD and the LRA to
“affirmatively further fair housing.”    This means much more than simply refraining from active discrimination in housing programs. HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority cannot use federal redevelopment funds to perpetuate existing inequalities, and they must affirmatively advance fair housing principles.

As a result of the lawsuit, LRA created the Additional Compensation Grant program, which provided more funding to low income homeowners. This helped to reduce inequities in the program. However, we estimate that 10,000 homeowners remain harmed by the discriminatory Road Home formula.

I am not at liberty to discuss our pending litigation in great detail. But, it is appropriate to note that in a recent opinion, United States District Court Judge Henry Kennedy made the following comments:

[HUD and the State of Louisiana] offered no legitimate reason for taking pre-storm home values into account in calculating […] awards. The Court does not take lightly that some African-American homeowners received lower awards than they would have if their homes were in predominantly white neighborhoods. [I]t is regrettable that this effort to [rebuild the city] appears to have proceeded in a manner that disadvantaged African-American homeowners who wish to repair their homes.

Despite the court’s other reservations about the case, Judge Kennedy determined the substantial statistical and anecdotal evidence showed that Plaintiffs would likely be able to prove that HUD and LRA have designed and implemented a racially discriminatory program. The court’s ruling demonstrates that HUD’s repeated assertions that the program is not discriminatory are wrong. In spite of this, HUD and LRA have refused to remedy the problem on their own.

Confronted with HUD’s racially discriminatory actions, I respectfully request that the members of this committee intervene by contacting Secretary Donovan and urging him to come up with a remedy that eliminates discrimination in the Road Home program. Until and unless this happens, the program will remain a road to nowhere.

Discrimination by municipalities and government agencies that receive CDBG and other federal funding

Consistent with the failures of the Road Home program, other government bodies have engaged in discrimination post-Katrina, in spite of their obligation to not merely refrain from discrimination, but to affirmatively further fair housing.

FEMA Allows Discriminatory Advertisements on Housing Website it Controls

In the Fall of 2005, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center uncovered nearly 1,000 discriminatory internet advertisements on several websites established to assist Katrina evacuees. The most egregious advertisements were listed on Katrinahousing.org. The site featured ads with comments like, “not racist, but whites only,” “prefers 2 white females,” “prefer white Catholic family, children welcome,” and “not to sound racist but because we want to make things more understandable for our younger child we would like to house white children.”

One of the sites featuring discriminatory advertisements was Dhronline.com. The site was established by FEMA in partnership with the University of Florida to provide housing assistance to evacuees. When notified about the advertisements, FEMA refused to remove them from the site and argued that it was immune from the Fair Housing Act. In fact, FEMA was likely in full violation of the Act.

Denham Springs Eviction of Residents with Mental Disabilities In December of 2005, after public meetings where residents made negative racial
comments and comments about people with disabilities, The City of Denham Springs, sought to evict New Orleans evacuees with mental illnesses from a group home established to serve the evacuees.10    Relying on the federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center filed suit on behalf of the Options Foundation, Inc.    As a result of the lawsuit, Denham Springs was enjoined from evicting the evacuees.  Denham Springs’ action not only violated the federal Fair Housing Act, but also demonstrated a failure to affirmatively further fair housing.

St. Bernard Parish Blood Relative Ordinance

In the Fall of 2006, St. Bernard Parish passed an ordinance making it illegal to rent single-family homes to people not related to the owner.  93% of homeowners in St. Bernard are white.  As a result, few if any minorities were able to rent housing in St. Bernard. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center sued the St. Bernard Parish Council to force them to overturn the ordinance.14    The litigation resulted in the successful reversal of the ordinance. The ordinance was illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act and certainly failed to affirmatively further fair housing.

Housing Authority of New Orleans Denies Residents

Since 2002, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) has been operating under HUD receivership. As a result, HUD manages and controls the Housing Authority. In 2006, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center filed a complaint against HANO after learning that the few available public housing units in the City located at the redeveloped St. Thomas housing development were actually occupied by the housing authority’s employees, rather than returning mostly African-American St. Thomas residents.  This was despite a conciliation agreement between the HUD, HANO, and former St. Thomas residents requiring that a preference be given to former residents of the development. In that case, HANO, essentially synonymous with HUD, was found liable for housing discrimination and forced to allow the residents to occupy St. Thomas.

St. Bernard Parish Multi-Family Housing Ban

In 2008, St. Bernard Parish, after public meetings where officials and the citizenry vocalised racialized fears about affordable rental housing, passed an ordinance banning the construction of affordable rental housing in the Parish. After failed negotiation attempts, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Provident Housing (a reputable housing developer) filed suit against the Parish alleging a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and a violation of the terms of a prior consent decree from the 2006 blood relative ordinance. The Parish fought the suit vigorously and was held in contempt of court four separate times. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center was victorious and the Parish was forced to overturn the ordinance and grant a permit to Provident Housing to begin construction of an affordable housing development in the Parish’s borders.
Jefferson Parish discriminatory zoning efforts Jefferson Parish likely engaged in discriminatory zoning efforts when it made it impossible for the Volunteers of America to build a Low Income Housing Tax Credit financed apartment complex to replace an elderly living complex destroyed by Katrina. The would-be occupants of the new complex were low-income elderly New Orleanians, most of whom were African-American. After public meetings where residents and elected officials raised racialized concerns about the development’s future residents, the Parish passed a resolution expressly requesting that no LIHTC developments be constructed on the Westbank of Jefferson Parish, the proposed Volunteers of America site location. The Parish subsequently engaged in a land-use study at the site of the proposed development, perfectly timed to kill the project. The project is now dead and the low-income elderly, mostly African-American residents, for whom the project was intended, have been left without an affordable housing option. During the same period, the Parish approved and championed a high-end, market rate, multi-family complex for elderly citizens. The actions taken by the Parish certainly demonstrate a failure to affirmatively further fair housing. In fact, they likely constitute illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Kenner City Multi-family Housing Moratorium

In 2008, Kenner City, located in Jefferson Parish, passed a moratorium on the construction of any multi-family housing in the City.  The ordinance prevented any LIHTC construction in the City. Conversation regarding the ordinance came up after residents raised concerns about a storm damaged apartment complex that housed mostly Latinos and families with children. The moratorium on multi-family housing was likely illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Eastern New Orleans Proposed Multi-family Housing Moratorium

In 2007, New Orleans’ District E City Council member sought to prohibit the construction or renovation of any multi-family housing with two or more units in her district.18 The District housed a large portion of the City’s affordable rental housing. African-Americans, people with disabilities and families with children comprised a large portion of the people who relied on apartment housing in New Orleans East. After aggressive advocacy by numerous local organizations, the proposed ban was withdrawn prior to being voted on by the Orleans City Council. The proposal, however, demonstrates discriminatory intent by the Council member.

Louisiana Building Code

The State of Louisiana, post-Hurricane Katrina, adopted a new building code but removed all provisions that would have forced developers to build multi-family units in a manner that was accessible for people with physical disabilities. Under the federal Fair Housing Act, all rental housing with four or more units built after March of 1991 must be physically accessible to people with disabilities. Many developers assume that by complying with state and local building codes, they have satisfied the Fair Housing Act requirements. Regretfully, the gutting of safe harbors from Louisiana’s building codes led numerous developers to build inaccessible multi- family housing that violates the Fair Housing Act. A 2009 study by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center found that every one of the 22 complexes investigated failed to meet the accessibility standards of the Fair Housing Act.  While the State’s liability is unclear, it is clear that removing fair housing provisions form the State building code is a failure to affirmatively further fair housing.

Conclusion

These examples are a mere sampling of post-Hurricane discrimination by government entities that benefit from CDBG funding. When considered with the previously demonstrated racially discriminatory formula used by the State of Louisiana to determine Road Home homeownership grant amounts, it is clear that CDBG funding is not being used in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. In fact, many entities have been found liable for violating federal fair housing laws.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the state of Louisiana and nearly all municipalities have failed to engage in any fair housing related activities. None of the entities have supported any fair housing related activities, trainings, workshops, events, enforcement or fair housing organizations.
In 30 days, Americans will refocus their attention on America’s Gulf Coast by commemorating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. What will become painfully clear is that the rebuilding in New Orleans and surrounding Gulf Coast communities remains incomplete. And consistently the failures in rebuilding coalesce around families with children, low-income residents, people with disabilities and people of color. Each of these groups has been systematically failed by government policies and rebuilding programs beset with racial disparities and discriminatory framework.

As Congress considers the future of fair housing in America, I urge members to look at the discriminatory housing failures of local, state and federal government and promulgate legislation that adds new protections to the federal Fair Housing Act and provides real penalties for government bodies that receive federal funding but fail to affirmatively further fair housing.

Recommendations

  • Congress should require HUD to recalculate Road Home grants so that funding is distributed in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Congress should require communities that receive federal funding to have building codes that are fair housing safe harbors.
  • Congress should limit CDBG funding for communities that resist reasonable efforts to create affordable housing.
  • Congress should provide $50 million of funding to the Fair Housing Initiatives Program at HUD.
  • Congress should approve the Housing Fairness Act.
  • Congress should better regulate HUD’s management of local housing authorities.
  • Congress should immediately strengthen the affirmatively further fair housing regulations and laws so that municipalities can be penalized for failing to affirmatively further fair housing.
  • Congress should immediately strengthen CDBG requirements so that municipalities found liable for illegal housing discrimination will be forced to forfeit CDBG and other federal funding.
  • Congress should strengthen HUD’s ability to enforce fair housing related CDBG regulations.
  • Congress should require HUD to strengthen its enforcement of CDBG related fair housing laws.
  • Congress should require HUD to strengthen its enforcement of fair housing laws against government agencies.
  • Congress should require municipalities to engage in activities that further fair housing.
  • Congress should require CDBG grantees to fund private fair housing enforcement non-profits.
  • Congress should require all staff of all municipalities that will manage CDBG funding to participate in fair housing law trainings.

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James Perry to the US House of Representatives Financial Services Subcommittee

Posted on 08. May, 2008 by in Enforcement Media & Pubs, Homeownership Protection Media & Pubs, Staff Testimony

Testimony of James Perry, Executive Director, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and President of the Louisiana Housing Alliance to the United States House of Representatives’ Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity on May 8, 2008

Congresswoman Waters, Ranking Member Capito, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the use of CDBG funds in Gulf Coast communities.

I am James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a private non-profit that works to eradicate housing discrimination in New Orleans. We are the only full service fair housing organization in the state of Louisiana. I also serve as President of the Louisiana Housing Alliance, a statewide coalition of housing advocates, non-profit housing providers, homeless service providers, advocacy organizations and local housing coalitions. We work to insure adequate affordable and low-income housing opportunities in Louisiana.

There are several goals and mandates within the Community Development Block Grant program. Most importantly, CDBG is supposed to provide housing opportunities for low-income Americans, cause development in poor communities and affirmatively further fair housing. I regret to inform you, however, that CDBG allocations have not been successful on these fronts.

CDBG Allocation Process

Lack of oversight – Members of Congress will recall that when CDBG funding was initially allocated to Gulf Coast communities, some of the stringent program requirements were reduced or stripped from the allocation. The goal was to make the program expansive since a large cross-section of citizens suffered in the 2005 storms. In particular, the obligation that 70% of funds go to assist low-income residents was significantly weakened.    Only 50% of funds were required to be used in a fashion that would assist low-income families. The result is that the majority of CDBG funding has been used to assist middle and upper income families, rather than low-income citizens.

For example, post-hurricane, Louisiana created the Road Home program. The program was designed to help both homeowners and renters. However, 86.2% of CDBG funding allocated by the state has gone exclusively to homeownership programs, which help citizens regardless of income. Only 13.1% went to affordable rental housing. This defies CDBG program goals since the majority of New Orleanians and particularly, low-income
New Orleanians and Louisianans were renters. Any attempt to assist low-income citizens must focus a major portion of its efforts on affordable rental. This scant allocation of funds makes it inherently difficult for CDBG dollars to benefit low-income citizens. In fact the situation remains that the Road Home Small Rental program, has to date provided only 13 units, when the state of Louisiana estimates a need for as many as 80,000 units.
The effect of the short falling is demonstrated in reports by Unity for the Homeless, a New Orleans non-profit. The organization estimates that prior to Hurricane Katrina there were approximately 6000 homeless residents. There are now more than 12,000 homeless citizens in New Orleans. If the Road Home Small Rental program were properly funded and managed, the number of homeless citizens would be significantly less. Better oversight of the use of CDBG funding could have prevented this failure.

The problem is exacerbated by the liberal nature of CDBG funding. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), charged with monitoring and managing CDBG, has little oversight and/or authority over CDBG grantees. In each case that post-storm CDBG grantees presented plans that didn’t achieve CDBG goals or asked for waivers from the CDBG low-income requirement, HUD has simply granted the waivers regardless of whether the plan affirmatively furthered fair housing or provided adequate housing assistance to low-income citizens.
The matter was clearly exemplified in Mississippi recently. Consider the unfortunate decision by Mississippi to allocate $600 million of its CDBG funding to a port development program that would offer little or no assistance to low-income citizens. Secretary Jackson of HUD stated in casual conversation that he believed the allocation to be a poor use of CDBG funding. He indicated that if he had the authority to reverse the decision, he would have done so.

The matter was again exemplified in Alabama. The millions of dollars allocated to the state to assist Hurricane affected evacuees have yet to be expended nearly three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Better oversight would force local and state officials to allocate CDBG funding in a timely manner.

Recommendations
• The problem of CDBG allocations being used for purposes other than assisting low- income residents is a national problem. Communities look for ways to use the funding that don’t necessarily help the poorest citizens or affirmatively further fair housing. In fact, studies indicate that most CDBG assistance inures to the benefit of moderate and middle-income citizens. Congress should refrain from removing the 70% low-income requirement on CDBG funding. In addition to the overall 70% low-income cap, 40% of CDBG funds should be required to be used exclusively to benefit citizens at or below 50% of median income. These rules should remain consistent both in normal operations and in times of disaster.
• Congress should increase HUD’s oversight of CDBG funding and make it easier for HUD to revoke or limit funding when CDBG grantees fail to assist low-income citizens, remove blight in poor communities, or affirmatively further fair housing.
• Hurricane affected states have not been forthcoming in releasing reports on CDBG allocations or HUD’s grading of their use of the allocations. Congress should strengthen reporting requirements so that all CDBG reports must be provided on the Internet and at the immediate request of citizens as soon as they are available.
• Congress should immediately account for the short fall that left many renter families without shelter by immediately allocating money for and approving 3000 permanent supportive housing vouchers. The Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on such funds today, as part of its supplemental budget package. The House should also include funding for these vouchers in its supplemental budget bill.

Fair Allocation of CDBG Dollars

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the 109th Congress capped Louisiana’s share of CDBG funding at 54% of the allocation despite the fact that Louisiana suffered nearly 80% of all the housing damage. Louisiana had more than four times the damage suffered in Mississippi, yet Louisiana received less than twice the amount of funding received by Mississippi. We support the recovery of our neighbors in Mississippi, but the disparity in allocation left needs in Louisiana significantly unmet.
If Louisiana had received the more than $20 billion that is proportional to the amount Mississippi received, the status of recovery might have been very different. More affordable rental units would be funded and more low-income citizens might have been helped. However, with scant federal resources available, the state was required to pick and choose who received help. In such circumstances, low-income citizens and citizens with special needs are rarely successful. Such has been the case in Louisiana. In addition, Louisiana has been placed in the undesirable position of having to consistently beg the Federal government for additional resources.

Recommendation
• It is important that in the future, funding must be allocated exclusively according to proportional need. In addition, Congress should reconsider whether current funding in Louisiana and Alabama has met the need. If not, Congress should allocate additional CDBG assistance.

Road Home Housing Program

Failure to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing/Discriminatory Practices – Another area that demonstrates the need for better federal oversight of CDBG fund usage is the Louisiana Road Home Homeownership Program. The program fails from a fair housing standpoint because it has a disparate discriminatory impact on African-Americans and other historically segregated communities of color. The program uses pre-storm home values to calculate renovation grant amounts. In communities of color that have historically low property values due to historic patterns of segregation, residents are paid lower grant amounts then their counterparts in majority white communities where comparable properties have higher values. Road Home grant payouts should be based exclusively on home replacement/repair costs rather than property value. This process would be less discriminatory and better enable citizens to rebuild.

The State of Louisiana, ICF International (the Road Home contractor) and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) have all been made aware of the discriminatory impact of the program, yet the problem persists. Some advocates have suggested that an aspect of Louisiana’s decision to ignore the problem may stem from the lack of a clear enforcement mechanism in the CDBG “affirmatively further fair housing,” clause.

Some Grantees have treated the language as dicta rather than a legal requirement. Advocates may be forced to pursue litigation to correct the problem.

Recommendations
• Congress should use any authority available to force the Road Home Homeownership Program to adopt a less discriminatory process for awarding grants.
• Congress should provide more tools and language to enforce the “affirmatively further fair housing,” provisions of CDBG laws and regulations.
• Congress should hold hearings on the discriminatory effect of the Road Home Homeownership Program

Poor Use of Funds – The Road Home program has increased performance since the fourth quarter of 2007. It has awarded more grants at a more frequent rate. However, significant problems in the Road Home program persist. The problems are too numerous to enumerate in this testimony. However, I will provide some exemplary issues.

LRA has unnecessarily shifted CDBG funds intended for Road Home homeowner grants to a home elevation program that most homeowners will not and have not been able to take advantage of because it does not provide enough money to actually raise an average house in Louisiana.
The Road Home program lacks a fair and efficient appeals program. Advocates assisting Road Home grant recipients with appeals have found that the appeals process is nearly impossible to navigate because: Road Home officials are slow to release internal information related to clients’ grant calculations; the appeals process and procedure is not clearly enumerated or publicized; conflicting Road Home policies thwart the appeals process; processing delays slow the appeals process; the appeals process is not firmly related to basic legal and administrative principles for deciding appeals; and appeals are not decided by a disinterested independent party.

The Additional Compensation Grant portion of the Road Home, which is meant to help low and moderate income homeowners rebuild, does not provide enough money to eligible applicants to make up for the gap between their homes’ pre-storm value and actual repair/replacement costs. The result is that a large numbers of low-income citizens have received only part of the money necessary to rebuild. The national credit crunch combined with the fact that credit ratings of Gulf Coast citizens suffered during the months after the Hurricanes have made it difficult for low-income citizens to use the private lending market to fill the gap left open by the Road Home program’s inefficiency. The result is that numerous citizens are left with partially renovated homes and no financial means to complete the renovations.

Finally, the Road Home and individual parishes have vague plans on how they intend to dispose of storm-damaged properties acquired by the Road Home program. The lack of clarity on the future of these properties limits citizens’ ability to make informed decisions about their communities.
In spite of these failures, the State of Louisiana increased payments to ICF International (the contractor that manages the Road Home program) despite documented evidence of massive contractor error.

Recommendations
• Again, Congress should increase federal oversight of CDBG funding to insure efficiency.
• In the planning process, CDBG grantees should be required to provide exhaustive details of how CDBG funding will be spent. Louisiana’s plan for the expenditure of more than $12 billion dollars of CDBG money was less than 20 pages long. The result is that few people, including state officials, have a clear understanding of how program dollars are being spent.

Road Home Rental Program

The Road Home Small Landlord program has failed to have any relevant effect on Louisiana’s recovery. The program is simply not replacing lost rental housing stock. To date, the state has received applications to restore 12,800 units but a mere 13 units have been restored in the more than 2 1⁄2 years since Hurricane Katrina.

The program requires that property owners get private financing and fully complete repairs prior to receiving funding. Of course, if landlords were able to get private funding, they would have no need for the program’s assistance. The requirement that renovation be complete before any funding is allocated has caused the complete failure of the program. The LRA, not understanding the cause of the failure, has sought to redirect program funding to other areas. The problem is extremely important since LRA estimates that the state needs an additional 60,000 to 80,000 rental units to complete its recovery.    The failure of this program exacerbates the affordable rental housing problems in Louisiana and prevents thousands of renters from returning to their communities. LRA must revamp this program to make it more lucrative and provide some upfront funding to landlords.

Recommendations
• Again, Congress should increase federal oversight of CDBG funding to insure efficiency.

Discrimination by Municipalities that Receive CDBG funding

Many of the rental units scheduled to be redeveloped are using the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and CDBG funding. The process of rebuilding affordable rental housing has been extremely difficult, because Louisiana municipalities have sought to limit the construction of affordable housing. Anti-affordable housing efforts, often termed “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) have slowed and in some instances stopped the development process.

One example occurred in Jefferson Parish where the Parish engaged in discriminatory zoning efforts that made it impossible for the Volunteers of America to build an apartment complex to replace a complex lost in the storm. The would-be occupants of the new complex were low-income elderly New Orleanians, most of whom are African- American. The Parish passed a resolution expressly requesting that no LIHTC developments be constructed on the westbank of Jefferson Parish. It later engaged in a land-use study at the site of the proposed development, timed to kill the project. The project is now dead and the low-income elderly, mostly African-American residents, for whom the project was intended, have been left without an affordable housing option. During the same period, the Parish approved and championed a high-end, market rate, multi-family complex for elderly citizens. The actions taken by the Parish certainly demonstrate a failure to affirmatively further fair housing. In fact, they likely constitute illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Kenner City, located in Jefferson Parish, recently passed a moratorium on the construction of any multi-family housing in the City. The ordinance, which we are aggressively advocating against, prevents any LIHTC construction in the City. The talk of the ordinance came up after residents raised concerns about a storm damaged apartment complex that housed mostly Latinos and families with children. The moratorium on multi-family housing is likely illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act.

In similar fashion, a city council person for New Orleans East sought to prohibit the construction or renovation of any multi-family housing with two or more units in her district. The district housed a large portion of the City’s affordable rental housing. African-Americans, people with disabilities and families with children comprise a large portion of the number of people who rely on the apartment housing in New Orleans East. The proposed ban was withdrawn prior to being voted on by the Orleans City Council. It however demonstrates discriminatory intent by the Council member.
In the Fall of 2007, St. Bernard Parish passed an ordinance making it illegal to rent single-family homes to people not related by blood to the owner. 93% of homeowners in St. Bernard are white. As a result, few if any minorities would be able to rent housing in St. Bernard. My organization, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, sued the St. Bernard Parish Council to force them to overturn the ordinance. The litigation resulted in the successful reversal of the ordinance. The ordinance was illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act and certainly failed to affirmatively further fair housing.

The State of Louisiana, post-Hurricane adopted a new building code but removed all the provisions that would have forced developers to build multi-family units in a manner that was accessible for people with physical disabilities. This is a failure to affirmatively further fair housing.
These examples are a mere sampling of post-Hurricane discrimination by municipalities that benefit from CDBG funding. When considered with the previously demonstrated racially discriminatory formula used by the state of Louisiana to determine Road Home homeownership grant amounts, it is clear that CDBG funding is not being used in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. In fact, each entity is likely liable for violating federal fair housing laws.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the state of Louisiana, and nearly all municipalities (except Baton Rouge) have failed to engage in any fair housing related activities. None of the entities have supported any fair housing related activities, trainings, workshops, events, enforcement or fair housing organizations. The sole voice of the fair housing movement in Louisiana has been the six-person staff of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center through its enforcement work and outreach efforts with partners such as the Urban Restoration Enhancement Corporation, the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, HUD, and an upcoming anti-NIMBY campaign with the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency.
It is important to note that the case is similar in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. None of these states have engaged in any activities that affirmatively further fair housing. In Mississippi, one municipality has bucked the trend by providing funding to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center.

Recommendations
• Congress should immediately strengthen the affirmatively further fair housing language in the CDBG regulations and laws so that municipalities can be fined and otherwise penalized for failing to affirmatively further fair housing.
•    Congress should immediately strengthen CDBG requirements so that municipalities found liable to for illegal housing discrimination will be forced to forfeit CDBG funding.
• Congress should strengthen HUD’s ability to enforce fair housing related CDBG regulations.
• Congress should require HUD to strengthen its enforcement of CDBG related fair housing laws.
• Congress should require municipalities to engage in specific activities that further fair housing.
• Congress should require CDBG grantees to fund private fair housing enforcement non- profits.
• Congress should require all staff of all municipalities that will manage CDBG funding to participate in fair housing law trainings.
• Members of Congress should conduct hearings to investigate the extent of illegal discrimination by CDBG grantees along the Gulf Coast.
Additional Recommendations
• Passage of an Affordable Housing Fund to support the production and preservation of rental housing affordable to extremely low income families and direct the resources to states where the housing supply has been affected by the Gulf Coast hurricanes for the first year.
• An additional allocation of GO Zone tax credits of $30 million annually for a period of five years to fund projects in the GO Zone;
• An increase in the State’s annual allocation of Per Capita Tax Credits from $8.6 million annually to $18 million annually for a period of five years to fund projects in rural and metropolitan areas of the state affected by GO Zone out-migration;
• An allocation of $500 million of GO Zone Mortgage Revenue Bonds to promote
ownership and rental housing in the GO Zone;
• Authority to use Single-Family Mortgage Revenue Bonds to refinance mortgage loans that are at risk of foreclosure;
• An increase from $15 million annually to $30 million annually for five years in its annual allotment of HOME funds to fund homeownership and affordable rental opportunities in GO Zone and non-GO Zone areas for persons earning less than 80% of AMI. 50% of the allocation would be reserved for citizens earning less than 30% of median income.
• $30 million in annual allotments of CDBG funds for five years to fund homeownership and affordable rental opportunities for persons in GO Zone and non-GO Zone areas earning from 0% to 100% of AMI. 33% of the allocation would be reserved for citizens earning less than 30% of median income.
• Additional federal funds for Regional Planning, and Community Development Training.

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For Rent Unless You’re Black: Race Discrimination in the NOLA Housing Market

Posted on 24. Apr, 2007 by in Enforcement Media & Pubs, Reports

Despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the passage of the Louisiana Open Housing Law and the City of New Orleans’ Human Rights Laws, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center’s (GNOFHAC) 2007 Fair Housing Rental Study indicates that as of April 24, 2007, the New Orleans metropolitan area has not achieved equal housing opportunity. The Rental Audit documents, describes and quantifies the rate of discrimination against African American testers in rental housing throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area. The Rental Audit not only measures the extent of the discrimination, but also reveals the nature of that discrimination – how housing providers are discriminating in rental housing.

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