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GNOFHAC Issues Letter Exposing Unlawful Racial Animus in Opposition to Mixed-Income Development in the Bywater

Posted on 20. May, 2019 by

Last week, GNOFHAC’s Executive Director Cashauna Hill submitted a letter to the New Orleans City Council and Mayor documenting coded racism and double standards present in the opposition to a proposed mixed-income development in the Bywater neighborhood at 4100 Royal St. Without a vote from the Council in support of a zoning change on Thursday, May 23rd, the development and the 82 affordable apartments it will bring to the gentrified neighborhood will die.

The letter suggests that failure to approve the proposed development could have the effect of further entrenching segregation in an increasingly white and exclusive neighborhood, and would possibly violate the Fair Housing Act.

The letter points out that opponents of the development, including Neighbors First for Bywater (NFB), have left a detailed record showing that at least some of the opposition to the proposed plans for the site are driven by unlawful racial animus and is driven by race-based stereotyping. At public meetings and in written comments, many opponents have suggested the development will bring drug dealing, “prostitution,” “become a ghetto,” and “destroy [the neighborhood],” while arguing to leave the site a vacant lot or turn it into a dog park.

The Architectural Review Committee (ARC) of the HDLC similarly suggested the density of the development would “foster neighborhood problems,” and “radiate dysfunction and blight.”

Despite the opposition ostensibly focusing on the density and height of the development, the letter also notes that NFB and the ARC publicly supported development of the Saxony, a luxury condominium development that is one story higher and more dense than the proposed development at the Royal Street site. The Saxony—only three blocks from the proposed mixed-income development—was built on half a city block, is five stories, and holds 75 units; while the Royal St. development contemplates four stories and 136 units spread out over an entire city block.

“The opposition to this project is clearly utilizing a double standard—supporting half million dollar condos that will disproportionately serve wealthy white people—while opposing less dense affordable housing that will create space for some of the African Americans who have been pushed out of this neighborhood to return,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. You can read the full letter here.

Moms deserve fairness, not housing discrimination

Posted on 10. May, 2019 by

Mother’s Day is around the corner. Do you know your housing rights? Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s illegal for a landlord to discriminate against families with children. This type of discrimination has been illegal since 1988, but unfortunately, it still happens every day. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance’s most recent report, there were 2,675 fair housing complaints filed in 2017 by families who believed they’d been treated unfairly because they had children (https://nationalfairhousing.org/2018-fair-housing-trends-report/).

It’s likely that discrimination against families with children happens much more often than that, because often discrimination is subtle and families might not realize they are being treated unfairly. Families also might not know that what happened to them was against the law, or that there are places to go for free help, like GNOFHAC.

There are lots of ways that discrimination against parents with children might look. A landlord might say flat-out that they don’t rent to people with children, or that they specifically won’t rent to pregnant applicants, parents with babies, or parents with teenagers. More often, a landlord won’t come out and say that they don’t rent to families with children, but they will discourage you from applying or give you the run-around once they find out that you have children. A landlord might also say that a property isn’t suited to families with kids – that there’s no yard, for example, or that stairs or a balcony aren’t safe – but deciding whether a property is a good fit for the family is a parent’s decision, not a housing provider’s. Landlords might also say that you have too many children for a particular apartment. While it’s reasonable for a landlord to have occupancy standards for health or safety reasons, sometimes those rules are too restrictive in a way that hurts families, and that can also be against the law. Once you’ve moved into the property, housing discrimination can still happen. For example, a landlord may ask for a higher security deposit because you have children, or have special rules that only apply to kids. Each of these things can violate the law as well.

If you think you’ve experienced housing discrimination, either because you have children or because of the number of children you have, or because of another factor such as your race, color, religion, national original, sex or gender, sexual orientation or disability, call the GNO Fair Housing Action Center at (877) 445-2100 or file a complaint online at http://www.gnofairhousing.org/file-a-complaint/. Help is free and confidential.

GNOFHAC ends Fair Housing Month with a very special story time!

Posted on 03. May, 2019 by

On April 30th, Mayor LaToya Cantrell read GNOFHAC’s original children’s book, The Fair Housing Five and the Haunted House, to children and families at the East New Orleans Regional Library. The reading was the last of a series of community events GNOFHAC hosted during April to celebrate Fair Housing Month, and it was a lot of fun!

We were so excited to have the support of the Mayor’s office. Vincenzo Pasquantonio, Director of the Office of Human Rights and Equity explained that, “Both the anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and the City’s recent tricentennial call on us to reflect on past injustices and commit to future policies that foster equity and opportunity for all New Orleanians.” Kids and parents at the event chatted with the Mayor about how to do just that.

The Fair Housing Five is an illustrated children’s book about kids who take action in their neighborhood in response to a landlord who is discriminating. It was written by GNOFHAC in collaboration with educators, parents and students and is designed to initiate conversations between parents, caregivers, teachers and children about housing discrimination, systemic inequality, and the important role that we all have in ending both. In addition to the book, GNOFHAC offers several interaction youth workshops for students of all ages. For more information about how to bring The Fair Housing Five to your school or organization, please visit www.fairhousingfive.org.

We can stop forcing Louisianans from their homes

Posted on 29. Apr, 2019 by

We see couches, cribs, and family keepsakes piled on our streets far too often. That’s because Louisiana makes it easier than nearly any other state for landlords to force people from their homes. State legislators have a chance to change our laws.

Senate Bill 28, by Sen. Ed Price, would bring us into alignment with the rest of the country and provide us one opportunity every six months to get current on rent within 10 days, before the courts get involved. Most mom and pop landlords already do this because getting courts involved cost money and so does finding a new tenant. Read more about the rest of the fixes in SB 28 here.

These are simple solutions that even our neighbors in Mississippi and Alabama have employed for decades. Forcing Louisianans from their homes is a choice we don’t have to keep making. 

How communities are fighting to save New Orleans from an Airbnb takeover

Posted on 27. Apr, 2019 by

A sign on the porch of a house in the Bywater neighborhood protests the proliferation of Airbnbs in New Orleans. Photo by the author.

Originally published at https://www.scalawagmagazine.org/2019/04/new-orleans-airbnb/. Reposted with permission.

Along Governor Nicholls street in New Orleans there are cars from all across the country parked in front of renovated shotguns and Creole cottages. The plates bear the origins of the travelers: some hail from nearby Mississippi, Alabama, or Arkansas, while others have descended upon the Big Easy from farther-flung corners of the U.S.: Vermont, New York, Michigan.

New Orleans has long drawn visitors from across the country and the world. Now many of those tourists are spending their nights in Airbnbs.

In the half-mile stretch between Rampart Street and Claiborne Avenue, over a dozen of the houses on Governor Nicholls are rented out via the website, rendering the road more like a string of hotels than a cohesive community.

Read More…

Fair Housing Legislative Updates

Posted on 25. Apr, 2019 by

Image of a New Orleans shotgun style home.
The Louisiana Legislature is in full swing. Several bills may help Louisianans stay in our homes—whether we rent or own—even as prices climb.

1) Senate bills 79 and 80 by Sen. Troy Carter will allow the City of New Orleans to reduce taxes on long-time, lower-income homeowners to ensure we aren’t gentrified out of our homes by skyrocketing tax assessments. It can also be used to offer incentives to landlords to keep rents low when affordability expires. In New Orleans we value our culture and traditions and know that without the people who create and maintain them, we lose everything that makes us so unique.



2) Another bill by Sen. Ed Price will ensure we aren’t forced from our homes whenever we face an unexpected medical bill or car breakdown. Senate bill 28 would provide us one opportunity every six months to get current on rent within 10 days, before the courts get involved. As it stands now, landlords can force us from our homes if we’re only one day late or one dollar short.

3) This session HB 422 would let local governments raise their own minimum wages and SB 155 would raise the state minimum wage. There are also equal pay bills like HB 63 and SCR 2 to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
Even if you can’t make it to the Capitol, follow us on Facebook for updates.

How to Recognize Racial Discrimination in Rentals

Posted on 18. Apr, 2019 by

There are a million reasons why trying to find a new apartment is stressful and challenging. When looking for a new place you may be asking yourself: Can I afford the rent? Is it in a location that I like? Is the house big enough for my family? Unfortunately, many people in our community also find themselves asking if they will be denied because of their race.

According to GNOFHAC’s mystery shopper investigations, African American potential renters are treated worse than equally qualified white potential renters about half of the time. That means Black renters have to look at twice as many apartments and work twice as hard in order to find a place to live. To deny or discourage someone from renting because of their race is against the law, but it still happens all too often. Because housing discrimination is often hard to detect, it’s unfortunately not always easy to know if you’re experiencing discrimination or if the apartment just didn’t work out.

So how do you recognize racial discrimination in the rental market? The first thing to do is listen to your gut. Did something about your interaction with the landlord just seem off? Pay attention if something didn’t feel right to you. Some examples of red flags to keep an out for include:

  • A housing provider telling you that a rental was available when you contacted them by email, but then telling you it had been rented when they heard your voice or saw you in person.
  • A housing provider suggesting that you look at their properties in another neighborhood instead of the one you are interested in.
  • A housing provider not returning your calls or keeping appointments, or outright discouraging you from even applying.
  • Being told that certain amenities that were advertised are not available or different after meeting with a housing provider.
  • A housing provider asking unnecessary questions about your qualifications or how you would treat the house.
  • A housing provider making a comment based on stereotypes or that makes you feel uncomfortable.

If you think you’ve experienced discrimination because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or because you have children, please call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100 or (877) 445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

Testing for Discrimination

Posted on 15. Apr, 2019 by

Image of sign that reads “For Rent” with houses in the background.

At GNOFHAC, we use testing as a tool to enforce fair housing laws. Testing is done by trained mystery shoppers who take on the role of a prospective homeowner or renter for the purpose of gathering information to identify unlawful discrimination and to ensure that individuals or companies are in compliance with the law.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that testers are harmed by discrimination and can sue under the Fair Housing Act. After considering the case Havens Realty Corporation vs. Coleman–during which a Black tester was told there were no vacancies at an apartment complex, while the white tester was told there were several units available–the court determined that not only had the Black tester been harmed by the discrimination, but that both testers could likely show that they had been harmed  “on the ground that the landlord’s policies deprived each the chance to live in an integrated community.”

At GNOFHAC, testing helps us see many different patterns of discrimination against various groups. Testing has shown, for example, that criminal background screening policies are frequently used as a covert form of racial discrimination.

We were inspired by New York Fair Housing Justice Center’s idea to publish the stories of some of the testers who make this work possible (their series is called Acting for Justice). Read on to learn about one of our tester’s experiences on the job.

*

“It’s like acting,” T.R. said of testing for GNOFHAC. “Like when you have to eat stuff that you don’t actually eat sometimes, and pretend to like it.”

T.R. found out about Fair Housing testing through a GNOFHAC First Time Homebuyers class. “I didn’t know people did this stuff. I didn’t have any idea,” T.R. said. She felt compelled to join our effort to combat housing discrimination with the opportunity to make some extra money along the way.

T.R.’s experiences as an African American tester run the gamut. When asked about tests that were particularly memorable, T.R. said, “Going to see an apartment that had a wet mattress on the floor. Being called an animal in the zoo. That sticks out. Seeing some really nice apartments that I wouldn’t actually mind renting if I needed an apartment–that sticks out. The big thing that sticks out, though, is when I go somewhere that’s dirty, that’s firthy, that I would never rent even if it was free. I think about all of the places where I literally was screaming on the inside.”

Mostly, though, T.R. said tests seem normal, in part because our investigators do not disclose what type of discrimination we are testing for to our testers ahead of time. So, T.R. said, “it’s always shocking to find out that actually something [discriminatory] happened.”

T.R. hopes that her work as a tester will help “prevent people from treating people differently because of who they are, their race; or who they believe they are, because all [a housing provider] gets is the surface. If you’re renting an apartment and we all have money and we can pay the rent, then I don’t know what else you’re looking for.”

*
We’re always looking for more testers!  You can learn more about the opportunity to become a tester here: http://www.gnofairhousing.org/participate/become-a-tester/.

Stopping Hate at Home

Posted on 10. Apr, 2019 by

Image of a home with “no blacs” spray painted on the window. Source: MEN Media.

A core aspect of fair housing for all is for folks to feel safe within their homes and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, there is a long history in the United State of people using harassment, intimidation, threats and even violence to try to keep particular people or groups out of their neighborhoods. These actions are not only wrong, they are also illegal. More specifically, they can be reported as discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

In recent years, there has been an uptick in the number of hate activities reported nationally, with the most recent FBI data showing a 17% increase in the last year alone (Source). Of those incidents, the most common location was in or near a residence.

In order for these actions to violate the Fair Housing Act, they must target someone due to their race, color, religion, national origin, sex (which can include sexual orientation or gender identity or expression), family status or disability. Examples of hate-related incidents include spray painting racial slurs on a home or other vandalism, threats or intimidation due to someone’s national origin, or harassment timed to coincide with a particular religious holiday.

Reporting these acts of hate is important because it can both hold perpetrators accountable and discourage further harassment of other community members. If you or someone you know has faced hate activity at home or housing discrimination of any kind, contact the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Protections Under the Fair Housing Act and LAVAWA

Posted on 02. Apr, 2019 by

Illustration that reads "sexual assault awareness month, wear teal, day of action, 4-2-2019" with multiracial fists lined up next to each other with teal sleeves showing.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and we here at GNOFHAC support survivors. We believe you, and we want to ensure anyone who has or could potentially face a form of sexual assault or harassment is aware of the housing protections that exist to keep you safe.

The Fair Housing Act protects against two main types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo, or “this for that,” sexual harassment occurs when a housing provider or their employee requires sexual acts in exchange for housing or housing-related transactions like repairs. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when a housing provider or their employee creates an environment of unwanted, severe, and/or pervasive sexual behavior that negatively affects a tenant. As Cashauna Hill, GNOFHAC’s Executive Director points out, “We often think of sexual harassment and discrimination as a workplace issue, but landlords are just as likely to abuse the power they hold over current and prospective tenants.

In 2015, GNOFHAC, the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and partners from across the state succeeded in passing the Louisiana Violence Against Women Act to protect the housing rights of survivors of domestic violence. These protections, as well as others under the federal Violence Against Women Act, often protect survivors of sexual harassment or assault. There are four important provisions:

  1. Survivors cannot be evicted or penalized for calling for emergency assistance. It’s against the law for a housing provider to have a “zero tolerance” policy for police visits in their lease.
  2. Survivors cannot be evicted because of the violence of their abuser. Survivors are often evicted due to the actions of an abuser regardless of whether or not the abuser lived on the property. This law not only protects survivors against court-ordered evictions, but also against other types of evictions, like a notice to vacate or refusal to renew a month-to-month lease.
  3. Survivors cannot be denied housing solely because they have experienced past abuse. Shelters often report that if a survivor lists a domestic violence shelter as a previous residence on a housing application, they have more trouble finding new housing. Under the new law, a landlord or leasing agent cannot refuse to provide housing to someone solely because they have experienced domestic violence.
  4. Survivors can terminate a lease early if they need to. Survivors who need to leave their home due to domestic violence must be allowed to do so without forfeiting their security deposit or facing any other penalty.

The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act and other similar laws offer important protections, but many tenants in Louisiana are not aware of their rights. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or other gender based violence and you have questions about your housing rights, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 1-877-445-2100. You can also contact the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-888-411-1333 or the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault at 1-888-995-7273.