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Dismantling Charity Hospital’s Legacy

Posted on 06. Dec, 2019 by

Since its inception in the 1730s, Charity Hospital was ahead of its time. In contrast to the social norms of the time that discriminated against those with lower incomes, the hospital was founded with the purpose to “establish and maintain a hospital for the poor people of New Orleans.”Charity Hospital even upheld these guiding principles throughout the Civil War and remained a neutral party that would provide treatments to both Confederate and Union Soldiers. In 1873, a local newspaper said that at Charity Hospital, “no question of race, nationality, religion, sex or character hinders a single applicant for repose and healing.”

The hospital was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Despite its location in the heart of New Orleans, it remained abandoned. Finally, in October of 2019, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Board of Supervisors, approved plans for the historic building’s redevelopment, which will include “housing (work force, faculty/student, and market-rate), medical training programs, an innovation hub, retail, restaurants, a series of outdoor community and green spaces, and parking.”

For over 260 years, Charity Hospital upheld a legacy of providing medical care for those who had nowhere else to go. Despite this heritage, the LSU Board of Supervisors approved plans for the building that do not include substantial housing options for the working families being pushed out of the city by rising rents. Although the redevelopment plan includes “workforce housing” units, which will be reserved for households who making between 80% and 120% of the area’s median income, this will still result in monthly rent costs between $900 and $1,100. These rents will still be far too expensive to be viable for hospitality workers, for example, who are in desperate need of affordable housing options. A recent report by the Data Center showed that for most of the top 10 occupations in the hotel industry, affordable monthly rent must be $600/month or less. Additionally, it is not clear what percentage of the units will be considered “workforce housing.” In GNOFHAC’s view, although this may be a step in the right direction, it is ultimately not a comprehensive enough plan. 

Furthermore, Charity Hospital investors will be renting more than 150 of the units as short-term rentals (STRs) to Sonder. Sonder is an STR company that already has significant operations in New Orleans. The proliferation of STRs in New Orleans has resulted inlong-term residents being evicted or pushed out of historic core neighborhoods due to an extreme increase in rent and property taxes, while wealthy companies such as Sonder profit from acquiring large quantities of rentable properties throughout the city.

New Orleans is facing an affordable housing crisis that requires all stakeholders to pitch in and help solve our city’s problems. That should especially include real estate developers that have benefited from millions in giveaways and incentives since Hurricane Katrina. The redevelopment of Charity Hospital, which once represented care and integrity for the people of New Orleans, falls far short of addressing the needs of working class New Orleanians who make this city the special place that it is. 

World AIDS Day: A Look at HIV Status and the Fair Housing Act

Posted on 29. Nov, 2019 by

December 1st is World AIDS day, which aims to bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to unite people worldwide in the fight against HIV, to support those with HIV, and to commemorate those who have lost their lives due to an AIDS-related illness. Globally, it is estimated that 36.7 million people are living with HIV. In the United States alone, approximately 1.1. million people are living with HIV. Having an HIV-positive status can impact multiple aspects of a person’s life, including their ability to find housing and to be treated fairly by housing providers. 

Unfortunately, high levels of discrimination against people with HIV still exist due to prejudice and widespread misinformation about how HIV is spread. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, which includes those who are HIV-positive or have been diagnosed with AIDS. Therefore, a housing provider cannot discriminate against a person with HIV/AIDS or if a person is incorrectly assumed to have HIV/AIDS. 

Housing discrimination can take many forms, some examples* to look out for include: 

  • False denial of availability based on a person’s disability.
    “Sorry we just rented the last unit.” 
  • Making inquiries into the nature or existence of a person’s disability.
    “You look fine to me. Why are you getting disability payments?” 
  • Refusal to rent or sell a dwelling because of a person’s disability or perceived disability.
    “I’m sorry, but we don’t rent to people with AIDS; the other tenants are just afraid.” or “I don’t rent to gay men because they usually have AIDS.” 
  • Discriminatory terms, conditions and provision of services or facilities because of a person’s disability.
    “You must obtain liability insurance (or pay a pet deposit) for your service animal.” 
  • Refusal to permit a reasonable modification to the unit at the expense of the person with a disability.
    “You may not install a ramp to the porch or grab bars in the bathroom.” 
  • Denial of a reasonable accommodation to the rules and regulations of rental or sale.
    “It’s against the rules to have another person live with you, even though there is enough room and the person is necessary to help you with your health needs.” 
  • Discriminatory advertising.
    “Persons with AIDS need not apply.”

*examples pulled from LegalAidOK.org

If you or someone you know feels that they have been discriminated against due to their HIV status (or perceived status), please contact GNOFHAC at (504) 596-2100. 

Reasonable Accommodations for Tenants with Disabilities in Nursing Homes

Posted on 15. Nov, 2019 by

Living in a nursing home or in an assisted-living facility is meant to help relieve the uncertainty of independent living for elderly individuals and persons with disabilities. However, the housing rights of nursing home residents can be violated by nursing home staff if they fail to provide reasonable accommodations for residents with disabilities. One such accommodation utilized by many Deaf residents is Video Remote Interpreting (VRI).

VRI is an interpreting system that provides a method of communicating with those who primarily use American Sign Language (ASL). VRI uses videoconferencing technology to provide the services of a qualified interpreter to people at a different location. If requested by someone with a disability, the VRI system should be provided when there are no on-site interpreters available. Failure of a nursing home to provide this reasonable disability accommodation is illegal under the Fair Housing Act.

Across the country, however, we’ve seen that Deaf residents in nursing homes are not getting the support they need. In November 2015, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) in New York filed two federal fair housing lawsuits against operators of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. FHJC alleged that the care facilities refused to make ASL interpreters available to Deaf residents at dozens of facilities, violating the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act can protect nursing home residents from being discriminated against and ensures their right to reasonable accommodations, such as using VRI.

Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities should be safe places that elderly and disabled individuals can go to live when their life circumstances require it. Operators of nursing homes must ensure that their facilities are acting in accordance with the housing rights of their residents. If you or someone you know has been denied a reasonable accommodation or modification, contact GNOFHAC at (877) 445-2100 for free help.

The Ballot of YES on November 16th!

Posted on 08. Nov, 2019 by

On election day—November 16th—New Orleans voters have the opportunity to invest in housing and protect our community from discrimination. 

Passing the Infrastructure and Housing Bond would help the City of New Orleans fund important public improvement needs like drainage and storm-water management to avoid future catastrophes like cars clogging drains and flash floods. In a first for the city, $25 million of the bond will also be set aside for the construction and rehab of housing affordable to our community. Importantly, this is a way to fund infrastructure and affordable housing without raising taxes. Housing is scare and we need to push policy makers to create more opportunities for our communities to have housing and thrive.  

Another proposition on the ballot proposition will require an additional tax on short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, which would raise funds for infrastructure improvements in New Orleans. GNOFHAC has worked previously on the issues surrounding the flood of Airbnbs that have further gentrified historical New Orleans neighborhoods and pushing out New Orleanians from their homes. This ballot proposition could help existing rules to regulate the spread of short-term rentals throughout the city.

Lastly, voters will also have the opportunity to approve a Human Rights Commission for the City of New Orleans to protect residents from discrimination. With a Human Rights Commission, victims of discrimination are able to pursue justice through a process that can be quicker, more accessible, and more affordable than hiring a lawyer and going to court. Other cities across the U.S. have these mechanisms, which could serve as models for New Orleans’s commission. This Human Rights Commission’s work would complement what GNOFHAC already provides to Louisianans. 

GNOFHAC understands how confusing and expensive it can be to seek legal help, which is why we offer free legal services to anyone who experiences housing discrimination and are available to answer related questions by phone. If you feel you have been discriminated against by a housing provider, contact us at (504) 596-2100.       

There’s Something in the Air: Environmental Racism in Louisiana

Posted on 01. Nov, 2019 by

Louisiana’s investments in the oil and gas industry have resulted in an exponential increase in public health issues throughout the state. The industry’s continued dominance in Louisiana is directly responsible for the creation of “Cancer Alley,” the stretch of industrial plants located along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that has caused an unprecedented number of cancer diagnoses in the surrounding communities. While cancer does not discriminate by race, ethnicity, or income level, Louisiana’s excessive number of petrochemical facilities in African-American and working-class communities disproportionately affects those groups. These plants are not only poisoning the environment, but also people’s homes.

The oil and gas industry’s increased presence in Louisiana has accelerated the degradation of the environment throughout the state. Despite the serious public health implications that these facilities are having on their surrounding communities, Louisiana legislators continue to entertain oil and gas lobbyists. According to Dr. Robert Bullard, “what we have is energy apartheid, where poor communities and poor communities of color are still getting the dirtiest of the dirty energy.” As a result, Louisiana currently ranks second-worst among U.S. states when examining a wide range of environmental indicators and has the fifth highest cancer mortality in the country.  

There are over 150 different chemical plants located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. These factories are only required to be 500-feet from neighborhood homes, so residents are directly exposed to cancer causing toxins. Children in many parishes along “Cancer Alley” are even required to bring respirators to school in order to breathe properly.While the Louisiana Tumor Registry refuses to release the cancer rates of the towns along “Cancer Alley,” residents have done independent studies amongst themselves, which estimate that one in five people in their communities will die from cancer. The areas that are most affected by pollutants have predominantly African-American residents, whose unprecedented number of cancer diagnoses continues to grow. One’s home is supposed to be a place of comfort and safety, yet in these neighborhoods, home is a place associated with toxins and disease.

Since industrial plants release an abundance of toxins into the air, people living within these communities have higher than average dioxin levels in their blood. Increased dioxin levels have led to higher rates of infant mortality, respiratory problems, cancerous tumors, and a myriad of other health problems amongst these communities. The effects of the oil and gas industries on the environment are undeniable in St. James Parish. This is a majority African-American and working-class community has been continually chosen as the location of new petrochemical facilities. According to Eve Butler, a resident of this district, “in 2016, I was caught in the rain, and my face peeled from the chemicals. It was like a really bad sunburn.” Eve was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later and is currently too sick to return to work. Despite the evidence of acid rain and frequent cancer diagnoses, St. James Parish has been approved for a new methanol production facility in 2020.

Due to the influx of petrochemical facilities in St. James Parish, many residents have to move to find safer homes. However, property values in St. James Parish have plummeted due to its deteriorating environmental conditions. Houses that are closest to the industrial plants are often worth significantly less than the parish average. In some cases, buy-out offers provided compensation for residents who lived too close to a petrochemical facility. However, according to a St. James Parish resident, “while white residents sold their properties and moved away, black residents did not receive buy-out offers, we were left inhaling the toxic air produced by the invading petrochemical plants.” As a result, many African-American and working-class residents are forced to stay in these toxic homes because they cannot afford to move.This discriminatory policy shows how this environmental issue is also one of housing justice because some residents were not given the same opportunities as others to leave the toxic environment, 

In order to eliminate the environmental racism that takes place throughout the state, it is necessary to hold lawmakers accountable by demanding increased environmental regulations and less petrochemical facilities in Louisiana. Because everyone deserves to be safe and healthy in their home.

Protecting New Orleans’s Unique Latinx Community

Posted on 25. Oct, 2019 by

October 15th marked the end of Latinx Heritage Month, a month-long celebration of the cultures and contributions of the Latinx community across the United States. New Orleans is renowned for its mixture of European, African and Caribbean cultural influences. However, New Orleans has also historically been a destination for immigrants from Latin America. One unique connection New Orleans has to Latin America is one of the city’s once-booming industries: the banana trade. 

New Orleans’s placement on the mouth of the Mississippi River made it one of the most important port cities in the United States. In 1933, the United Fruit Company (which dominated the banana trade in Central America and the Caribbean) moved its headquarters from Boston to New Orleans. From that point on, the banana trade created a consistent flow of immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean. During this time the Honduran population grew rapidly and became the most prominent Latinx community in the city.  Parts of the metro area where these immigrants settled were even given names like “the Barrio Lempira” (named after the Honduran currency) and “Little La Ceiba” (named after a Honduran port city). 

In 2000, the Honduran population had remained fairly constant for the past decades with about 8,112 Hondurans living in the metro area. After Katrina, there was an uptick in the Honduran population as immigrants came to work as day laborers to help rebuild the city. According to the 2010 census, the population had grown to about 25,000. However, Hondurans are not the only Latinx group with a strong presence in New Orleans. Today, the city is home to a “pan-Latin[x] community,” with a total population of over 76,000. Honduran, Mexican, Nicaraguan, El Salvadorian, Garifuna, Los Isleños, Cuban and Brazilian communities (among others) have all contributed to the cultural richness of the city. 

New Orleans is made special because of our diversity and unique “gumbo” of cultures. However, instances of housing discrimination, particularly on the basis of national origin and immigration status have shut out Latinx people from living in the city. The Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination based on national origin and it applies to everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status. A recent poll shows that 31% of Latinx people report having faced discrimination when looking for a house or apartment. According to another study done in New York City, Latinx people are “28% less likely to have a landlord return their calls and 49% less likely to receive an offer at all,” compared to prospective white tenants. 

To learn more about housing rights and immigration status, check out this past blog post. If you have been discriminated against because of your national origin or immigration status, contact our office at (877) 445-2100. We also offer Spanish language interpretation.  

Raise Your Voice to Secure Housing Discrimination Protections

Posted on 17. Oct, 2019 by

In August, we let you know about a long-standing civil rights protection known as “Disparate Impact” that is currently under attack by the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The disparate impact theory has been used to prove housing discrimination claims since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and despite having enjoyed bi-partisan support for more than 50 years, HUD is proposing to change the rule and make it nearly impossible to challenge discriminatory practices that are not blatant or explicit.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Disparate Impact is an important tool in fighting segregation and racial isolation. However, HUD’s proposed rule would require explicit proof of discrimination (not just proof of the discriminatory effect), provide special protections for businesses that use algorithms, and seems to lay the foundation for exempting the insurance industry from disparate impact liability.

What this change would mean, is that future discriminatory laws and policies would be harder to fight. The Disparate Impact legal theory is at the heart of dozens of cases that have protected Louisiana residents. Most notable among them is GNOFHAC’s case that secured $62 million in relief for families across South Louisiana harmed by the Road Home’s discriminatory funding formula. While the policy of offering rebuilding grants based on the pre-storm value of a home, rather than the cost to rebuild, seemed neutral, it resulted in homeowners in white neighborhoods receiving higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar.

Without Disparate Impact, we also might not have been able to stop St. Bernard Parish’s 2006 “blood relative” ordinance preventing property owners from renting to anyone but blood relatives. In addition, Disparate Impact was pivotal in protecting survivors of domestic violence from eviction because of the actions of an abuser.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to tell HUD that Disparate Impact needs to stay. GNOFHAC is working with national groups to collect as many comments opposing the rule as possible before Friday, October 18th. To make a comment and make your voice heard, visit www.defendcivilrights.org/make-comment.

#YesOn4

Posted on 11. Oct, 2019 by

New Orleans is in the throes of a housing crisis. Much of GNOFHAC’s work in recent years has been to fight displacement and make sure that New Orleans is a community where long-term residents can stay and thrive. We’ve seen renters pushed out of their homes by rent spikes and out of town investors prioritizing tourist housing like AirBnB. Even homeowners who have lived in their houses for years—sometimes generations—are losing their homes due to skyrocketing property taxes. In response to this crisis, advocates have pushed the city to take action to lessen the displacement of long-term residents. In August New Orleans City Council passed new rules to restrict short term rentals, and on October 12th New Orleans voters will have another opportunity to keep New Orleanians in New Orleans.

A statewide constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot would allow the City of New Orleans to control its own property taxes and offer relief in exchange for affordable housing. Constitutional Amendment 4 comes with support from both sides of the political aisle, having been endorsed by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. This bipartisan support is a rare find in Louisiana, and Mayor Cantrell’s office attributes that to the proposition’s ability to “provide local solutions to local problems”.

Among those solutions is a plan suggested by Mayor Cantrell which promises to take concrete actions to ensure housing relief for New Orleanians. The plan has two main pieces. The first would address the spike in tax assessments and provide tax relief for homeowners to ensure property taxes stay affordable for long-term, low-income homeowners and first-time homebuyers. The second piece of Mayor Cantrell’s plan is to incentivize small landlords and builders to increase the number of affordable rental units on the market.

New Orleans need its long-term residents and a #YesOn4 vote means we’ll be able to set our own rules with the New Orleans City Council rather than at the state legislature in Baton Rouge. We hope you will join us in getting out the word and getting out the vote on October 12th, because we know that when New Orleans can take care of itself, the whole state thrives.
Click here to find your polling place and here to see if you’re registered to vote!

A Look into New Orleans LGBTQ+ History

Posted on 04. Oct, 2019 by

In New Orleans, queer and trans communities have many unique histories. One example is the history of Storyville, New Orleans’ legal red-light district which was operational from 1897 to 1917. Established by municipal ordinance under the New Orleans City Council to regulate prostitution and drugs, Storyville became home to a portion of New Orleans’ queer, trans, and black populations, who were pushed to the margins of society.

Restaurants, saloons and brothels lined the streets of the district, enticing travelers from the nearby train station. Given that options for work and housing were limited for queer and trans people during this time, many opted to earn a living via sex work and moved into Storyville to support themselves. There, they could live freely amongst members of their communities.

Storyville was renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and equally unique “cast of characters.” Fanny Sweet, an infamous Storyville resident, was openly gay and the owner of a well-known brothel in the district. She was described as a “thief, lesbian, Confederate spy, poisoner and procurer.” Another colorful persona, Miss Big Nelly, was a prominent member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Storyville, operating a brothel in the district that housed gay men.  The saloons in Storyville gave a soundtrack to the activities of the district. Jazz music flourished at these music clubs during the late nineteenth century. An iconic figure at the pianos of Storyville saloons was Tony Jackson. He was an openly gay black musician who played an important role in the birth of Jazz music in New Orleans and both lived and worked in Storyville.

When prostitution became illegal again in 1917, Storyville shut down and most of its buildings were later destroyed, causing the displacement of all those who once called it home. By 1940, the location was being used to build the Iberville Housing Projects, a segregated all-white housing development. Black residents who used to live in Storyville had to move 12 blocks into the Lafitte project. It is important to note that queer and trans people would not be legally protected against housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in Orleans parish until fairly recently. In 1991, the New Orleans City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance protecting LGBTQIA+ people against discrimination in housing and employment in Orleans Parish.

Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act does not explicitly include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, sex discrimination frequently applies to discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. There are also some newer rules on the books that extend protections to queer and transgender individuals under the law. For example, in federally funded housing, HUD’s LGBT rule protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes public housing, housing rented with a Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher, FHA mortgages, and lots of other programs. For more information on legal protections against housing discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation please refer to this previous blog post.

If you think you have experienced housing discrimination because of your sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100.  Help is free and confidential.

Coming Home with a Criminal Background

Posted on 20. Sep, 2019 by

The United States has a long history of discriminatory arrests, convictions, and incarcerations, the consequences of which can last long after a sentence is completed.  For formerly incarcerated people (FIP), it is more difficult to obtain employment opportunities, to vote, to receive government assistance, and to find housing opportunities. Numerous state and federal laws have influenced an unfair system that is responsible for arrest rates being 2.5 times higher for African Americans than for white individuals, resulting in African American communities being denied housing at a higher rate and furthering segregation in our neighborhoods.

A 2015 GNOFHAC investigation revealed that background checks were being used as a means to discriminate against African-Americans. The investigation showed that housing providers were not applying criminal background checks across all races equally. 50% of the housing providers that were tested in New Orleans discriminated against African American mystery shoppers who had criminal backgrounds. Additionally, the investigation found that housing providers were consistently willing to give white testers a second chance, while African American testers were not given that same leniency. Housing providers also quoted more tolerant policies to white testers, such as one housing provider who encouraged a white tester with a misdemeanor to apply for a home but told an African American tester that the misdemeanor would result in a denial.

 Even policies that are enforced equally can still have a discriminatory effect. Disparate impact occurs when policies, practices, rules or other systems, which appear to be neutral, result in a disproportionate impact on a protected group. Since people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are more likely to be targeted by the criminal justice system, overly broad criminal background policies will consistently have an unfair impact based on race and national origin. Even though the policy may seem equal, the effect can deny communities of color housing opportunities at an unfair rate, resulting in difficulty obtaining mailing addresses, living in safe environments, and reintegrating with society.

For some, an expungement can provide individuals with opportunities to remove prior arrest records. Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana (JAC) offers free monthly workshops that provide eligibility screenings for individuals who are trying to obtain expungements with representatives from Orleans Public Defenders, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Voice of the Experienced, and pro bono attorneys who are available to answer questions and provide resources. You can find more information at their website: jaclouisiana.org/expungements

While expungements will not provide the social and institutional change that is needed to eliminate the discriminatory justice system, it may give FIP opportunities to live their lives with more ease. In addition, there are local efforts pushing to change city wide housing practices in regard to criminal background policies. GNOFHAC is proud to support VOTE’s (Voice of the Experienced) work to ban the box on all rental applications in New Orleans so that private landlords and public housing authorities alike cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant based on their criminal record. GNOFHAC enforces the Fair Housing Act for all individuals who have been discriminated against. The Fair Housing Act protects everyone against housing discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sex and having children. If you or someone that you know has faced housing discrimination of any kind, call us at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online at http://www.gnofairhousing.org/file-a-complaint/.

Additional resources:

Navigating HANO criminal background screening policy

Guide with basic info on Expungements