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Fair Housing Center Agrees to Settle Disability Discrimination Case for over $200,000 in Fees and Damages

Posted on 11. Dec, 2014 by in Enforcement News, News

On Wednesday, the City of Baton Rouge approved an agreement with Oxford House, Inc., Danjean Causeway, LLC and Glenda and Raymond Roy to settle a 2011 federal complaint of disability discrimination against the City.  The agreement settles all matters on appeal and requires the City to pay $240,000 in attorneys fees to plaintiffs, who operate group home for people with disabilities.  In a separate agreement, the City previously agreed to pay Plaintiffs’ damages.

Previously, the Honorable Judge James Brady, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Louisiana granted a temporary restraining order enjoining the City of Baton Rouge from enforcing its “two (2) unrelated persons residing in an A-I zone” prohibition against two Oxford House, Inc. homes. In March 2013, Judge Brady granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in the case, finding that that the City of Baton Rouge violated the Fair Housing Act and American with Disabilities Act.  In August of this year, Judge Brady ordered that the City be permanently enjoined from enforcing the prohibition against group homes operating as Oxford Houses.  The City subsequently appealed the order.  This week’s settlement resolves the appeal.

In 2011, the City of Baton Rouge notified and then filed suit in state court against the owners of two Oxford Houses in Baton Rouge claiming that the houses were in violation of the City’s Unified Development Code because more than two unrelated persons were living in a single-family home zoned as A-1.  Oxford House, with the assistance of Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), filed a fair housing complaint and lawsuit against the City after the City denied multiple reasonable accommodation requests from Oxford House in relation to the two properties.  Under the Fair Housing Act, residents of Oxford Houses are considered to be people with disabilities.

Oxford House, Inc. is a nation-wide network of group homes for persons recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. All Oxford Houses adhere to three major concepts: they are financially self-supporting, democratically run, and evict any resident that returns to active substance use. Individual Oxford Houses create a family atmosphere to allow residents to benefit from the therapeutic support of their peers in helping them stay clean and sober and recover from their addictions.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments “In settling this matter today, the City of Baton Rouge has taken a public stand against housing discrimination. Oxford Houses are a much-needed resource for people with disabilities in communities throughout Louisiana. GNOFHAC is prepared to act in whatever ways necessary to protect the rights of Louisianans with disabilities.”

The plaintiffs are represented by GNOFHAC and attorneys John Adcock and Steven Polin.

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

Race Discrimination on the North Shore

Posted on 28. Aug, 2014 by in Blog, Enforcement News, Participate (for sidebar)

In order to measure housing discrimination in our community, GNOFHAC uses testing, or mystery shopping, to evaluate the practices of local landlords. A recent investigation in Slidell revealed several instances of racial discrimination that violated the Fair Housing Act, including one landlord who’s paying the price this month.

GNOFHAC-trained testers called the landlord about an apartment he was advertising near Slidell. The landlord told the three African-American testers that the apartment wasn’t available, stating that the current tenant hadn’t left yet and that he needed to make major repairs first. During the same period of time, the landlord invited three white testers to visit the empty apartment and turn in an application. GNOFHAC filed a Fair Housing Act complaint in federal court and settled this month.  Read More…

GNOFHAC Settles Sexual Harassment Case in Shreveport

Posted on 28. Aug, 2014 by in Blog, Enforcement News, Uncategorized

In late 2011, GNOFHAC received a call from a woman in Shreveport in desperate need of housing for her and her children. After a few minutes of conversation, the woman disclosed that she was fleeing her current apartment because of ongoing sexual harassment she was enduring from her landlord.

Few people are aware that such harassment can be classified as a direct violation of the Fair Housing Act, but the reality is that sexual harassment in housing often occurs on the basis of a tenant’s sex.  “Sex” is one of the seven protected classes under the Fair Housing Act, therefore a landlord who sexually harasses his renter can sometimes be taken to court for housing discrimination. Read More…

Fair Housing Center Files Suit Over Discrimination Against Deaf Homeseekers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Largest Property Preservation Company in Nation Accused of Housing Discrimination

Posted on 08. Apr, 2014 by in 2014 News, Enforcement News, News, Uncategorized

For Immediate Release

April 8, 2014

Contact:   Kate Scott        kscott@gnofairhousing.org         (504)596-2100

Largest Property Preservation Company in Nation Accused of Housing Discrimination

Safeguard Properties Accused of Racial Discrimination in Maintenance of Foreclosed Homes in Dayton, Toledo, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Memphis

Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and three of its member organizations announced an amended federal housing discrimination complaint against Safeguard Properties, headquartered in Ohio. Safeguard is the nation’s largest privately-held property preservation company, also known as a field service vendor. Fannie Mae hired Safeguard to maintain and market its bank-owned, foreclosed homes, also known as Real Estate Owned or REO properties.

This complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the result of an investigation into Safeguard Properties and its failure to maintain foreclosed homes in African-American and Latino neighborhoods as compared to White neighborhoods in a number of metropolitan areas nationwide. Today’s complaint presents new evidence from New Orleans and highlights the investigations in Dayton, Toledo, Baton Rouge, and Memphis. NFHA and its partner agencies filed their first complaint against Safeguard Properties in 2013. Failing to maintain homes based on the racial or ethnic composition of the neighborhood violates the federal Fair Housing Act.

Safeguard Properties was recently named in a report by the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of the Inspector General, which described how the preservation companies that the OIG reviewed provided inaccurate information and manipulated photographs in their reports to Fannie Mae. The Illinois Attorney General also has a lawsuit pending against Safeguard.

“After we filed our first complaint against Safeguard Properties in March 2013, we met with them to outline the maintenance disparities in African-American and White neighborhoods,” said Shanna L. Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “However, Safeguard claimed the examples of failed maintenance were isolated incidents and has continued in its failure to maintain properties in African-American and Latino neighborhoods.”

Safeguard is contracted to cover eight simple maintenance issues:

  1. substantial accumulation of trash or debris;
  2. overgrown grass/leaves;
  3. overgrown or dead shrubbery;
  4. invasive plants (covering 10% or more of the structure);
  5. unsecured or broken doors;
  6. unsecured or broken windows;
  7. unsecured holes in the structure;
  8. broken or missing steps and handrails.

NFHA, the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center in Dayton, OH, the Toledo Fair Housing Center, and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center described their findings in Dayton, Toledo, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Memphis. In all cities, the groups found significant amounts of trash, overgrown invasive plants, and unsecured holes in the building structures of homes in communities of color, while rarely finding the same problems in White neighborhoods.

NFHA and its member agencies are represented by Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC located in Washington, D.C.

Detailed statistics and photos are available at www.nationalfairhousing.org.

NFHA has also filed complaints regarding the maintenance and marketing of foreclosed homes against Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and US Bank. Many of the neighborhoods investigated overlap. Added together, the blight and damage caused to these communities by the banks is compounded. Health and safety risks increase because of accumulated trash and overgrown lawns attracting rodents and insects and broken windows and doors inviting vandalism.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status, as well as the race or national origin of residents of a neighborhood. This law applies to housing and housing-related activities, which include the maintenance, appraisal, listing, marketing, and selling of homes.

CITY-SPECIFIC INFORMATION

Dayton:

  • 63% of properties that Safeguard serviced in African-American neighborhoods had three or more deficiencies compared to only 19% in White neighborhoods.
  • 64% had substantial overgrowth of invasive plants, 55% had damaged steps or handrails, and 37% had unsecured holes in the building structures.

“It is inexcusable that a company that brags about being a ‘turnkey resource for all aspects of default property management’ would allow properties to be maintained in this fashion. Safeguard Properties claims to pride itself on its ‘attention to detail,’ but anyone who lives near or around a property maintained by Safeguard knows better,” said Jim McCarthy, President and CEO of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center.

Toledo:

  • 88% of properties that Safeguard serviced in African-American neighborhoods had three or more deficiencies, versus 24% in White communities.
  •  75% had broken or unsecured doors, 50% had damaged steps or handrails, and 38% had unsecured holes in the building structures.

“We have seen a failure on the part of Safeguard to provide adequate maintenance of REO properties in communities of color. These communities were hardest hit by predatory lenders, then the foreclosure crisis, and now blighted REO properties. The lenders and the preservation companies, like Safeguard, played a role in the decline of the American dream; now they must play a role in neighborhood stabilization,” said Michael Marsh, President and CEO of the Toledo Fair Housing Center.

Baton Rouge:

  • Every Safeguard-serviced property in African-American neighborhoods had overgrown grass and leaves, and half had significant trash, compared to none in White neighborhoods.

New Orleans:

  • 78% of Safeguard-serviced properties in communities of color had significant trash accumulation, compared to 12% in White neighborhoods.
  • 52% of properties in communities of color had overgrown or dead shrubbery, compared to 18% in White neighborhoods.

“You might assume that you’ve got a great neighbor in a company with a name like ‘Safeguard.’ But in Southeast Louisiana, we have found that having this company as your neighbor means you actually need to keep your guard up,” said James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “We have been fighting blight for years, but we never expected that neighborhoods of color would have to confront Safeguard for un-neighborly, value-depreciating antics like these. Today, we’re simply calling on Safeguard to step up to the plate and play fair in all New Orleans and Baton Rouge neighborhoods, regardless of their racial makeup.”

Memphis

  • 54% of properties serviced by Safeguard in neighborhoods of color had significant trash accumulation, compared to none in White neighborhoods.
  • Almost half of Safeguard-serviced properties in neighborhoods of color had unsecured holes in the building structures.
  • 37% had leaves and overgrown grass, and more than one-quarter had broken or unsecured windows.

“Buy a rake and clean it up, Safeguard. Fannie Mae is paying you enough to do something as simple as that,” said Shanna L. Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “It is just shameful – not to mention illegal – that Safeguard blatantly disregards neighborhoods of color in Memphis by leaving a mess on the properties it claims to service. This creates an eyesore and damages the property values in these communities. ” ____________________________________________________________________________________

National Fair Housing Alliance

Founded in 1988, the National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of more than 220 private, non-profit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights agencies, and individuals from throughout the United States. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the National Fair Housing Alliance, through comprehensive education, advocacy and enforcement programs, provides equal access to apartments, houses, mortgage loans, and insurance policies for all residents in the nation.

Toledo Fair Housing Center

The Toledo Fair Housing Center’s mission is to eliminate practices of housing discrimination and expand equal housing opportunities. In fulfilling that mission, the Center has set many precedents and increased housing opportunities locally and nationally. The Center has been a leader in fair housing enforcement, having investigated over 11,000 complaints of discrimination and recovered over $30 million in damages.

Miami Valley Fair Housing Center

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center is a comprehensive full-service fair housing center in Dayton, Ohio, with experience in auditing and testing activities, anti-predatory lending investigation and remedy, mortgage rescue scam intervention, foreclosure prevention counseling, and mortgage modifications, as well as fair housing and fair lending education and outreach. MVFHC works throughout the Miami Valley to eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equal housing opportunity for all people in its region.

Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a private, non-profit civil rights organization that was established in the summer of 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination throughout the greater New Orleans area through education, investigation, and enforcement activities. 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.

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

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GNOFHAC Joins in Complaint Against U.S. Bank

Posted on 14. Mar, 2014 by in Blog, Enforcement News, News, Participate (for sidebar), Uncategorized

U.S. Bank Accused of Housing Discrimination

Civil Rights Organizations Add Dallas, Hampton Roads, Va., New Haven and New Orleans and New Evidence in D.C. Area to Complaint against U.S. Bank

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance and four of its member organizations announced new evidence of housing discrimination by U.S. Bank, N.A. The civil rights groups allege that U.S. Bank continues to maintain and market foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods in a much better manner than in African-American and Latino neighborhoods. Failing to maintain and market homes because of the racial or ethnic composition of the neighborhood violates the federal Fair Housing Act. Read More…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know Your Rights: Protections for Individuals with a Disability

Posted on 09. Dec, 2013 by in Blog, Education News, Enforcement News, Participate (for sidebar), Recent Trainings

New FHF of SELA Logo-2

Join us and our partner, Families Helping Families of Southeast Louisiana, for a workshop on housing rights for people with a disability. The workshop is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

The training will cover rights and responsibilities under fair housing and landlord-tenant law with a focus on protections for people with disabilities. The workshop will also provide specific information regarding fair housing issues often faced by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. ASL interpreters will be present.

Read More…

New Orleans Fair Housing Center, National Fair Housing Alliance and Wells Fargo Announce Partnership To Rebuild Homeownership Opportunities in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and 18 other Cities

Posted on 06. Jun, 2013 by in 2013 News, Enforcement News, News, Participate (for sidebar)

Ground-Breaking Fair Housing Agreement in Marketing and Maintenance of Foreclosed Properties

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and 13 of its member organizations announced a partnership with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. that will provide funds in 19 cities to foster homeownership, assist with rebuilding neighborhoods of color injured by the foreclosure crisis, and promote diverse, inclusive communities.

This is the first-ever agreement regarding the equal maintenance and marketing of Real Estate Owned (REO) homes. The agreement is the result of a federal housing discrimination complaint filed in April 2012 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  The complaint alleged that Wells Fargo’s bank-owned properties in white areas were much better maintained and marketed by Wells Fargo than REO homes in African-American and Latino neighborhoods.   Read More…

Fair Housing Center announces $900,000 settlement agreement with St. Bernard Parish; pleased with settlement between United States and Parish

Posted on 10. May, 2013 by in 2013 News, Enforcement News, News, Participate (for sidebar), St. Bernard Parish, Uncategorized

On Friday, May 10, 2013, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and nine (9) individual plaintiffs agreed to settle a federal lawsuit against St. Bernard Parish alleging that the permissive use permit (PUP) process adopted by the Parish in 2007 was racially discriminatory in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  As a result of the settlement agreement, the Parish will pay $900,000 to GNOFHAC, nine (9) individual Parish property owners, and their attorneys.  All plaintiffs have agreed to dismiss the claims they filed against the Parish in their January 2012 complaint.

Also on Friday, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) announced its own settlement with the Parish in regards to a separate lawsuit it filed, also in January 2012, which alleged that the Parish “violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in a multi-year campaign to limit rental housing opportunities for African-Americans in the parish.”  The USDOJ settlement requires the Parish to undergo comprehensive fair housing training, establish a Parish-wide Office of Fair Housing staffed by at least one full-time Fair Housing Coordinator, engage in affirmative marketing to both developers of rental housing and renters interested in living in the Parish, and establish a rental land grant program to facilitate the development of rental housing throughout the Parish.

Both settlements stem from alleged civil rights violations on the part of the Parish that have unfolded over the course of more than seven years.

GNOFHAC settled an earlier challenge to a Parish ordinance that restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property. In 2008, the Parish agreed to enter into a consent decree with GNOFHAC resolving that lawsuit. However, the Parish and the Parish Council were repeatedly held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the 2008 Consent Order, including for enacting two multi-family construction moratoria that were found to violate the Fair Housing Act. Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, “The terms of the agreements that the Parish entered into today- valued at over $2.5 million- indicate that Parish attitudes towards fair housing responsibilities have changed drastically as a result of our ongoing work over the course of the last seven years.  The monetary settlement between the Parish, GNOFHAC and nine individual plaintiffs will make those harmed by the PUP process whole again.  The comprehensive USDOJ settlement agreement with the Parish is incredibly detailed and has the potential to make great strides in ensuring that everyone seeking to make a home in St. Bernard has an equal opportunity to do so.”

Reed Colfax and Jamie Crook of Relman, Dane and Colfax PLLC managed the litigation on GNOFHAC’s behalf.

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