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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.

Federal Judge Grants Motion for Summary Judgment in Housing Discrimination Case Against St. Bernard Parish

Posted on 19. Oct, 2012 by in 2012 News, Education News, St. Bernard Parish

On October 17, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted a motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and Provident Realty Advisors, in a long running housing discrimination case against St. Bernard Parish.  The decision signals that the Plaintiffs won the case on the merits, and that there is no need to go to trial.  Further, the court’s order grants Plaintiffs’ latest motion to hold St. Bernard Parish in contempt of court and awards Plaintiffs reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

The most recent ruling came in response to a motion for summary judgment in the case filed by GNOFHAC and Provident Realty Advisors in July of this year.  According to the motion, “the conduct at issue in the relevant time period involved issuing repeated cease and desist orders, withholding the release of critical municipal services, refusing to provide feedback and information on construction specifications, refusing to issue renewed building permits, and delaying construction by seeking to enforce inapplicable codes.”  The conduct took place throughout 2011.

Also on October 17, 2012, the court adopted a Magistrate Judge’s recommendation to award plaintiffs GNOFHAC and Provident Realty Advisors over $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs in relation to three contempt rulings issued against St. Bernard Parish in 2011.  The motions covered behavior that the Parish engaged in throughout the course of 2011 aimed at preventing the development of mixed income multi-family housing in St. Bernard.

St. Bernard Parish’s repeated actions to delay construction on Provident Realty Advisors’ four multi-family housing developments in St. Bernard Parish at issue in the summary judgment motion were a continuation of a long string of race-based attempts to block multi-family housing developments in the Parish.  Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of GNOFHAC’s multi-year litigation against St. Bernard Parish, during which the Parish has repeatedly been held in contempt for violating a 2008 Consent Order.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, “After years of protracted litigation, we were pleased to have witnessed new homes coming on line in St. Bernard Parish through the opening of the Provident apartments.  This week’s orders from the court signal that the Parish will be held responsible for its illegal, discriminatory actions.  Meanwhile, we remain committed to ensuring equal housing opportunity throughout our region.”

Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC represented GNOFHAC in these matters.

Click here for a copy of GNOFHAC’s motion for summary judgment described in this release.

Click here for Judge Helen Berrigan’s order granting the motion for summary judgment.

Click here for Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan’s Report and Recommendations regarding attorneys’ fees and costs.

Click here for Judge Berrigan’s order adopting Judge Shushan’s Recommendations regarding attorneys’ fees and costs

Click here for a comprehensive timeline of GNOFHAC’s St. Bernard Parish litigation

Fair Housing Center and U.S. Department of Justice File Suit Against St. Bernard Parish Over Racial Discrimination in Housing

Posted on 01. Feb, 2012 by in 2012 News, Enforcement News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On Tuesday, January 31, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) along with several individual St. Bernard Parish property owners filed a lawsuit in federal court against St. Bernard Parish alleging that the permissive use permit process (PUP process) adopted by the Parish in 2006 is racially discriminatory in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the Parish, alleging 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.” Both suits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

GNOFHAC’s latest complaint alleges that Parish officials “enacted and enforced the PUP Ordinance as part of their overarching and persistent efforts to maintain St. Bernard Parish as a predominantly white enclave.” Further, according to the complaint, Parish officials “enforced the PUP Ordinance by discouraging homeowners from submitting applications, refusing to accept applications, issuing cease and desist orders, and threatening significant fines and judicial enforcement actions.” The suit prays for relief in the form injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

These latest suits stem from civil rights violations on the part of the Parish that have unfolded over the course of more than five years. GNOFHAC has successfully challenged St. Bernard’s two previous multi-family construction moratoria, and an 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. However, the Parish and the Parish Council have repeatedly been held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the 2008 Consent Order. Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle.

GNOFHAC Executive Director comments “We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice has taken such a strong stance against racial discrimination in housing by filing suit against St. Bernard Parish, but regret that such drastic action has been necessary. Everyone should have an opportunity to choose where they want to live regardless of their race and we sincerely hope that new Parish leadership will take the appropriate steps necessary to end discrimination on the part of the Parish once and for all.”

Relman, Dane, and Colfax PLLC represented GNOFHAC in this matter.

1-31-12 Download the press release here.

1-31-12 Read the full GNOFHAC complaint here.

1-31-12 Read the full complaint filed by the U.S. Dept of Justice here.

1-31-12 Read the Nola.com article “Department of Justice applies legal muscle to St. Bernard Parish” here or download

1-31-12 Read the AP article “Feds sue St. Bernard Parish over housing” here or download

1-31-12 Watch the WDSU segment “Parish accused of limiting housing for African-Americans” here or download the article here

2-3-12 Read the Nola.com editorial “Resolve housing dispute in St. Bernard Parish” here or download

For a comprehensive timeline of the St. Bernard Parish litigation, click here.

Federal Judge Grants Fair Housing Center’s Motion To Hold St. Bernard Parish In Contempt

Posted on 19. Oct, 2011 by in 2011 News, Enforcement News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On October 17, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued an order holding St. Bernard Parish and the Parish Council in contempt for violating the terms of a 2008 Consent Order, which among other things enjoins them from violating the Fair Housing Act. Plaintiffs GNOFHAC and Provident Realty Advisors, Inc. filed a motion to enforce the Consent Order and hold St. Bernard Parish in contempt in January 2011, after St. Bernard Parish refused to renew Provident’s building permits for the development of four mixed-income housing developments. Seventy percent of the units will be affordable to low- and moderate-income households.

The Parish asserted that that it could not renew Provident’s building permits because of an amendment to the Parish’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO), which no longer permitted multi-unit dwellings on the four sites where Provident is building affordable housing developments in the Parish. Although the Parish subsequently renewed Provident’s building permits in February 2011, it then sought to stop construction on the four sites by issuing cease and desist orders, claiming that Provident’s renewed building permits were invalid, based on the 2010 zoning amendment.

Following briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the District Court held that the specific sequence of events leading up to the CZO presents ample evidence of intentional discrimination. When the previous ordinances were challenged, Defendants reverted to alternative legal strategies such as a referendum and a new CZO. The Court furthermore held that the CZO has a discriminatory effect on African-Americans and violates the Fair Housing Act.

Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of GNOFHAC’s multi-year litigation against St. Bernard Parish, during which St. Bernard Parish and the Parish Council have repeatedly been held in contempt for violating the 2008 Consent Order.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, “Judge Berrigan’s order of contempt is a major victory in the long struggle we’ve engaged in to eliminate illegal racial discrimination in housing in St. Bernard Parish. We remain committed to making sure that anyone, regardless of race, can live in St. Bernard Parish if they so choose.”

Relman, Dane, and Colfax PLLC represented GNOFHAC in this matter.

Click here for a copy of Judge Berrigan’s latest order in its entirety.

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.

St. Bernard Parish Issues Building Permits

Posted on 06. Jul, 2011 by in 2011 News, News, St. Bernard Parish

After defying a federal judge’s order for more than two weeks and garnering $40,000 in fines, St. Bernard Parish today issued building permits for three of four contentious mixed-income apartment construction sites in Chalmette.

7-6-11 Read the nola.com article “St. Bernard Parish Issues Contentious Apartment Building Permits” here

7-8-11 Read the nola.com editorial “St. Bernard Parish officials get a wake-up call on housing” here

7-10-11 Read Jarvis DeBerry’s editorial “Affordable Housing Proposals Don’t Have to be Divisive” here

Judge Partially Grants Another Motion for Contempt Against St. Bernard Parish

Posted on 30. Jun, 2011 by in 2011 News, Enforcement News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On June 30, 2011, the Honorable Judge Helen Berrigan issued an order, partially granting the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center’s (GNOFHAC) latest emergency motion for contempt against St. Bernard Parish. The order also requires the Parish to issue permits for Provident Realty Advisors’ sites Woodlands, Parc Place, and Magnolia by 3pm on July 1st, among other provisions.

6-30-11 Read the full press release here

6-30-11 Read the Judge’s order here

7-1-11 Read the WDSU article “Judge Orders Permits, Power for St. Bernard Apartment Complex” here or download

6-30-11 Read the nola.com article “Federal Judge Holds St. Bernard Parish in Contempt” here or download

Fair Housing Center Files Another Motion for Contempt Against St. Bernard Parish

Posted on 22. Jun, 2011 by in 2011 News, Enforcement News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On June 22, 2011, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) filed an emergency motion for contempt against St. Bernard Parish. The motion “requests that the Court issue an immediate order enforcing its June 20, 2011 Order; ordering Defendants to immediately provide water taps and authorize the release of electricity; holding Defendants in contempt; and imposing appropriate damages, fines, coercive sanctions, and fees and costs.”

6-23-11 Read the full press release here.

6-22-11 Read GNOFHAC’s motion here.

6-22-11 Read GNOFHAC’s memorandum here.

6-22-11 Read the WDSU article “Legal battle heats up over Chalmette housing project” here or http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/articles/6-22-11_wdsu_Legal_Battle_Heats_Up.pdf“>download.

Federal Judge Grants Relief In Part, Requires Parish to Provide Essential Utilities to Developer

Posted on 20. Jun, 2011 by in 2011 News, Enforcement News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On June 20, 2011, Federal Judge Helen Berrigan issued an order partially granting the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center’s (GNOFHAC) and Provident Realty Advisors latest motion to hold St. Bernard Parish in contempt of court.  The order requires St. Bernard Parish to allow Entergy to release electricity to developer Provident Realty Advisors’ sites, and ordered defendant St. Bernard Parish to provide water taps to the four development sites in question.  In the order, Judge Berrigan cited the need for electricity at the sites in order to make it possible for Provident to provide adequate security in the face of recent acts of racist graffiti. Judge Berrigan also noted the need for water on site for safety reasons. Finally, in the order Judge Berrigan calls on expert Dr. Anthony Lamanna to provide additional assistance to the court in making decisions still unresolved regarding the Parish’s claims about on site construction issues.

6-21-11 Read the full press release http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/06-21-11_SBP_Release.pdf“>here.

6-21-11 Read the Judge’s Order http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/06-21-11-SBP_Order_re_Motion_to_Enforce.pdf“>here.

6-21-11 Listen to the Provident voicemail http://www.gnofairhousing.org/audio/Provident_Voicemail.mp3” target=”_blank”>here.

6-21-11 View an image of the graffiti on Provident’s building http://www.gnofairhousing.org/images/Provident_Graffiti.jpg” target=”_blank”>here.

6-21-11 Read the nola.com article “Federal judge orders electricity and water at site of controversial… apartments” here or http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/articles/6-21-11_TP_Federal_judge_orders_electricity.pdf“>download

Resistance to Mixed Income Housing in St. Bernard Parish Still Driven by Racial Discrimination

Posted on 06. Jun, 2011 by in 2011 News, Enforcement News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On June 6, 2011, the Honorable Judge Helen Berrigan issued another order in the legal battle between the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC)/Provident Realty Advisors and St. Bernard Parish.  In her order, Judge Berrigan denies St. Bernard’s motion for the court to issue a cease and desist order and sets a timeline by which the parties must work out specific permitting issues.

Though St. Bernard Parish officials continue to insist that their resistance to rental homes is not rooted in racism, evidence continues to surface suggesting otherwise.  For example, Provident employees recently arrived at a work site to discover graffiti on one of the buildings stating “NO NIGGERS.”  Another Provident employee received a voicemail encouraging the developers to not “build a nigger project in St. Bernard Parish.”  Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the multi-year litigation.

6-7-11 Read the full press release http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/06-07-11_St.Bernard_release.pdf“>here.

6-6-11 Read the Judge’s Order http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/06-07-2011_St.Bernard_Order.pdf”>here.

6-7-11 Listen to the Provident voicemail http://www.gnofairhousing.org/audio/Provident_Voicemail.mp3” target=”_blank”>here.

6-7-11 View an image of the graffiti on Provident’s building http://www.gnofairhousing.org/images/Provident_Graffiti.jpg” target=”_blank”>here.

6-6-11 Read the nola.com article “Federal judge sets guidelines for contentious St. Bernard Parish…” here or download

6-12-11 Read Jarvis DeBerry’s editorial “Housing fight prompts racists to speak out” here or http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/articles/6-12-11_TP_Housing_fight_prompts_racists.pdf“>download

Taffaro Issues Cease and Desist Order in Response to State Court Ruling, then Rescinds Rather than Face Stiff Fines from Federal Judge

Posted on 08. Apr, 2011 by in 2011 News, News, St. Bernard Parish

On April 8, 2011, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro ordered work stopped on the four mixed-income apartment complexes being built by Provident Realty Advisors in Chalmette because they don’t have proper parish permits. But U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan quickly ordered him to rescind the order or face contempt-of-court fines beginning today at 5 p.m. The fines would have begun at $25,000 a day and increased to $50,000 a day on Tuesday. On April 9th Taffaro rescinded the ordinance.

In December 2010, Provident was denied an extension of its four permits because the developer was informed that their property was no longer zoned for multifamily housing under new zoning regulations. After that denial, Provident and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center once again went to federal court. HUD filed its complaint soon thereafter.

Under that federal pressure, the parish renewed the construction permits but, with the help of resident opposition and parish officials’ complimentary testimony, a state judge has since ruled the permit renewals invalid.

Read the nola.com articles:

4-8-11 Read “St. Bernard Parish orders work stopped on Provident Realty apartments” here

4-9-11 Read “Taffaro bows to federal judge; rescinds order” here

4-9-11
Read “Judge blasts St. Bernard Parish officials” here