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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.

Target ® Sponsors the Fair Housing Five!

Posted on 19. Jun, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, Education News, News, Participate (for sidebar), Uncategorized

Target LogoExciting news! GNOFHAC has received a grant from Target® to lead numerous Fair Housing Five workshops with any youth camp or organization across the greater New Orleans area this summer. With this generous grant, GNOFHAC will be able to distribute our original children’s book to the youth organizations and lead the workshops for free.

Read More…

2014 Legislative Session Wrap Up

Posted on 05. Jun, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, News, Participate (for sidebar), Policy Statements, Policy Updates, Uncategorized

Crop State CapThe 2014 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature wrapped last week. GNOFHAC fought vigorously to pass legislation that would expand fair housing protections to the LGBT community and victims of domestic violence, enrolling the support of over 50 organizations statewide, dozens of legislators, and hundreds of individual supporters.

Ultimately, too many Louisiana legislators bowed to hate speech from gay rights opponents and caved in to pressure from the landlord lobby instead of voting to protect domestic violence victims. Proposed legislation was ultimately not passed this year.

However, the outpouring of support from concerned citizens contributed to a gain in new legislative champions and bill sponsors, increased fair housing education amongst legislators, and helped us build strength in a tough environment. We are inspired by the incredible support and excited about the vital connections we built with legislators and partners that will make our chances of success even greater when we return to the Capitol next year.

Thank you for supporting our work by signing petitions, making donations, sending letters to your legislators, and speaking up on behalf of those who need your help the most. Advocates for justice across the state fought some really tough battles this session, but we’ll be back next year. Stay tuned because we’ll need your help again!

Louisiana House of Representatives Votes Against Victims of Domestic Violence

Posted on 29. May, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, News, Participate (for sidebar), Policy Statements, Policy Updates

On Thursday, May 29, the Louisiana House of Representatives failed to pass Senate Bill 233 by a vote of 34-63.  SB233 would have provided housing protections to victims of domestic violence.   The bill passed unanimously through a Senate Committee, the Senate Floor, and a House Committee.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) joined 42 organizations statewide in supporting the leadership of Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome to promote better housing options for victims of domestic violence without imposing an undue burden on landlords.  Representative Helena Moreno carried the bill in the House as part of a larger package of successful legislation aimed at enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence.  Speaker Pro Tem Leger and Rep Moreno demonstrated tremendous leadership in skillfully managing over an hour of floor debate. Read More…

Support GNOFHAC on #GiveNOLA Day!

Posted on 29. Apr, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, Events, News, Participate (for sidebar), Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 11.05.48 AMTuesday May 6th: GNOFHAC Happy Hour and #GiveNOLA Day

On Tuesday, May 6, GNOFHAC will participate in #GiveNOLA Day, a citywide, online day of giving where every dollar donated to local nonprofits will be maximized with additional funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation. It’s one day only, so make your donations online between midnight and 11:59 to get the most out of your investment!

Eiffel LogoTo celebrate the first ever our campaign, we’re partnering with Eiffel Society to host a Pay-it-Forward Happy Hour (4-7) and free tango lessons (7-11)! There’s no cover, and a portion of all drink sales will support fair housing, so put on your dancing shoes and join us for great drink specials on Tuesday, May 6th at the swanky Eiffel Society on St. Charles Ave. “Like” us on Facebook, where you can RSVP for the event.  Contact Marlene Theberge at mtheberge@gnofairhousing.org for more information.

RSVP for the Happy Hour to be entered into a drawing for a free round of drinks!

 

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Annual GNOFHAC Crawfish Boil

Posted on 17. Apr, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, Events, News, Participate (for sidebar), Uncategorized

Crawfish-Boil

Join GNOFHAC Thursday, April 24th at 5:30 pm as we close out Fair Housing Month with our 2nd Annual Crawfish Boil. Family, friends, community members, and supporters are invited to join the Fair Housing Center’s staff and board at our offices, located at 404 S. Jefferson Davis Parkway, for free crawfish and drinks while engaging in an open discussion of current civil rights and fair housing issues in Louisiana.

Please contact Stephanie Sheeley at ssheeley@gnofairhousing.org for more information and “Like” us on Facebook, where you can RSVP for the event.

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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Fair Housing Month 2014 Educational Events

Posted on 02. Apr, 2014 by in 2014 News, Blog, Events, News, Participate (for sidebar), Recent Trainings, Uncategorized

FairHousingMonthBanner

FAIR HOUSING CENTER COMMEMORATES FAIR HOUSING MONTH 2014 WITH SERIES OF FREE EVENTS

On April 1, 2014, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) announced a series of events to occur throughout the month in commemoration of National Fair Housing Month. Each event is free and open to the public, and accessible to people with disabilities. For more details about GNOFHAC’s celebration of Fair Housing Month 2014, please call (504)596-2100.

GNOFHAC’s Fair Housing Month events will occur throughout the State, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport. The events are: Read More…

Urge Your Legislator to Support Expansion of the Louisiana Equal Housing Act

Posted on 27. Mar, 2014 by in 2014 News, Actions, News, Participate (for sidebar), Policy Statements, Policy Updates, Uncategorized

Everyone in Louisiana deserves a fair opportunity to find a place to call home. The Louisiana State Legislative session just started last week, and we’re committed to making sure that state laws promote equal housing opportunity! GNOFHAC is working with a broad coalition of partners to expand housing choice for all Louisiana residents.

One crucial part of our full legislative  agenda is equal housing protections for Louisianans regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Currently in Louisiana, it is legal for landlords to discriminate against LGBT people. Will you take the first step with us in asking the Legislature to right that wrong?

Please take a moment right now to send an email to Louisiana House Commerce Committee Members, and ask them to expand housing choice for people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression, and marital status.

Have you experienced discrimination in housing on the basis of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status? Please consider sharing your experience with us so that we can make sure state legislators fully understand the impacts that housing discrimination has on their constituents.

Download the LGBT housing rights fact sheet here, then support and send a message to legislators to expand these rights statewide!

P.S. Do you know anyone that has experienced housing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status? Please encourage them to share their stories with us too!