Subscribe  
  • Tools:
  •  A-  A+
    Site Map Translate    Traduccion    Dịch thuật

Fair Housing Center Settles Case Against Louisiana State Fire Marshal After Judge Rules he Violated Fair Housing Laws Protecting People with Disabilities

Posted on 17. Oct, 2017 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) announced a settlement with the State Fire Marshal to ensure that the agency will no longer discriminate against people with disabilities. The plaintiffs in the case were Oxford House, Inc., a nationwide network of housing for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers; the owners of an Oxford House in Lake Charles; and a former Oxford House resident.

The case alleged that the State Fire Marshal’s refusal to allow seven women recovering from alcohol and substance abuse to live in a single-family home “as a family” constituted illegal housing discrimination. The Fire Marshal had instead sought to treat the home as a commercial rooming and boarding facility and require residents to install expensive upgrades or lose their home. If the Fire Marshal had prevailed, 105 other Oxford Houses in Louisiana would potentially have had to close their doors, causing 700 persons in the process of recovery to become homeless.

In July, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and against the Fire Marshal, finding that the Fire Marshal was obligated under federal anti-discrimination laws to accommodate the Oxford House residents. Federal law requires that reasonable accommodations be made for people with disabilities when necessary to ensure equal housing opportunity. Under the Fair Housing Act, residents of Oxford Houses are considered to be people with disabilities. 

Lori Holtzclaw, regional manager for Oxford Houses in Louisiana and Mississippi said, “As both a manager and a previous Oxford House resident, I know that the support of living together like a family is key to recovery—it’s no surprise the model has shown an 86% success rate in residents remaining sober.” She continued, “There is no reasonable fire safety justification for preventing adults from living together in a single-family home.”

The settlement announced today resolves the remaining issues in the federal lawsuit and ensures that the Office of the State Fire Marshall will put in place a process for reviewing accommodation requests, and–for the purposes of fire safety–treat Oxford Houses like any other single-family home.   

Cashauna Hill, GNOFHAC Executive Director, comments, “Especially in the midst of our state’s opioid epidemic, Oxford Houses are a much-needed resource in our communities. We’re grateful for the residents who moved forward with this case and helped safeguard protections for people with disabilities throughout Louisiana.”

GNOFHAC settled a similar case with the City of Baton Rouge in 2014 after a U.S. District Court ruled that the City should allow Oxford Houses to operate in areas zoned for single-family dwellings. 

Plaintiffs were represented by GNOFHAC attorneys Elizabeth Owen and Peter Theis, John N. Adcock, of the Law Office of John N. Adcock, and by Steven G. Polin of the Law Office of Steven G. Polin.

 

Louisiana ranked as the third deadliest state for women

Posted on 13. Oct, 2017 by

October is domestic violence awareness month and in Louisiana, one of the states with highest rates of female homicide victims, there is an even more urgent need for awareness and action.

In September, the Violence Policy Center released its annual report, “When Men Murder Women: Analysis of 2015 Homicide Data,” ranking Louisiana as the state with the third highest rate of women murdered by men. Although Louisiana dropped from last year’s ranking as the state with the second highest female homicide, the rate of women murdered by men has continued to steadily climb from 1.67 per 100,000 in 2011 to 2.22 per 100,000 in 2015, even as the rate of female homicide victims nationwide has decreased.

The report also shows that black women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence. The rate of black females murdered by males was more than twice as high as the rate of white female victims in 2015; however, there has been a lack of attention on the excessive amounts of violence that black women face: “The disproportionate burden of fatal and nonfatal violence borne by black females has almost always been overshadowed by the toll violence has taken on black males,” the report states.

Domestic violence and housing go hand in hand. Far too often, survivors of domestic violence are forced to make the decision between their safety and their home. Nearly 1 in 3 residents in Louisiana domestic violence shelters reported being there because the actions of their abusers led to their eviction, according to a 2015 Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence survey. Because many shelters are at capacity and have to turn away survivors, evictions are a direct cause of homelessness. According to the 2013 Louisiana Homeless Census, 75 percent of all homeless adults in Louisiana report being victims of domestic violence.

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. 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 act 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, she has more trouble finding housing. 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 other penalty.

The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act offers important protections, but many tenants in Louisiana are not aware of these rights. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-888-411-1333. Help is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against by a housing provider, or if you have questions about your housing rights, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 1-877-445-2100.

Fair Housing Center Files Suit Over Insurance Discrimination Against Voucher Landlords

Posted on 18. Sep, 2017 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and a New Orleans landlord filed suit against Covington Specialty Insurance Company, Mesa Underwriters Specialty Insurance Company, and Hull & Company, Inc. in federal court. The suit alleges the insurance companies discriminate against New Orleans landlords who rent to families utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers (informally known as “Section 8” vouchers). This policy has the effect of making it harder for Housing Choice Voucher holders—who are disproportionately African American, female-headed, and families with children—to access housing.

Dr. Andre Baugh and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) are plaintiffs in the litigation. The litigation arose after Covington Specialty Insurance Company canceled Dr. Baugh’s liability policy because he disclosed that Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) families occupied five of his eight rental units. Covington, without doing any particular risk analysis, explained through their agent that it was “not in the business of doing Section 8.” Dr. Baugh then sought out a new policy from Mesa Underwriters Specialty Insurance Company only to find that the policy was significantly more expensive than the Covington policy, and that Mesa specifically charged higher rates to insure properties with HCV families than those without. Like Covington, Mesa did not seek any other information about Dr. Baugh’s tenants to understand actual risk, and instead relied on broad stereotypes about families receiving housing subsidies. Defendant Hull & Company issued and administered Dr. Baugh’s policies with both Covington and Mesa.

After finally securing insurance, Dr. Baugh contacted GNOFHAC, which undertook significant public education and outreach efforts to counteract the insurers’ discriminatory policies.

Despite negative stereotypes, New Orleans data shows HCV families are far less transient and are more stable than market-rate renters. According to U.S. Census and HUD data, 22% of all New Orleans renter households moved in the last year compared to only 7% of HCV families, who stay in their units for an average of over six years.

The HCV Program provides housing subsidies to low-income families seeking housing in the private rental market. In New Orleans, HCV families are concentrated in African American neighborhoods, ensuring that the insurance companies’ policies have a discriminatory effect on individual families and entire swaths of the city.

“Stereotypes and assumptions are simply not a valid reason to perpetuate segregation or deny families housing,” said GNOFHAC executive director, Cashauna Hill. “We commend Dr. Baugh for coming forward with this complaint and encourage anyone else who suspects they may have been a victim of housing discrimination to contact the Fair Housing Action Center.”

GNOFHAC and Dr. Baugh are represented by Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, and Dr. Baugh is also represented by Scott, Vicknair, Hair, and Checki, LLC.

Fair Housing Center Settles Case: Property Manager Refuses to Rent to African Americans

Posted on 02. Aug, 2017 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) announced the settlement of a federal lawsuit against the owners and operators of a Westbank apartment complex, alleging the property manager refused to rent to African Americans on multiple occasions. During litigation, the property manager at the Dorian Apartments admitted that she had not rented to an African American person in her 32 years on the job.

As a result of the settlement on behalf of GNOFHAC and two individuals, defendants will pay $85,000 and the property manager will be permanently banned from the management of apartments.

A white tenant first reported the 10-unit complex in Harvey, Louisiana to GNOFHAC in November 2014 after witnessing the property manager refuse to shake hands with his African American friend and tell him that no units were available. His friend then asked about a wait list, and was told one did not exist. The complainant later witnessed the property manager tell an African American teenager – inquiring about vacancies on behalf of his mother – that no units were available when the complainant knew an apartment was vacant.

GNOFHAC conducted an undercover investigation of the complex’s rental practices using mystery shoppers. The lawsuit alleged that the property manager repeatedly misrepresented the availability of apartments to African American mystery shoppers while simultaneously offering open units to similarly qualified white mystery shoppers.

Cashauna Hill, GNOFHAC Executive Director, comments, “Unfortunately, these kind of insulting and discriminatory practices are not uncommon in our rental market. For those who benefit from and often witness this behavior, we implore you to come forward as the complainant in this matter did. Racial discrimination in housing is illegal and anyone who suspects they may have been discriminated against or witnessed discrimination should report their suspicions to the Fair Housing Action Center.”

Deutsche Bank Accused of Discrimination in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and 28 Other Cities

Posted on 26. Jul, 2017 by

National Fair Housing Alliance, in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and 18 Other Fair Housing Centers Charge Deutsche Bank and its Preservation Maintenance Companies with Housing Discrimination based on Race and National Origin

Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, LA — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), and 18 state and local fair housing groups announced that they have found substantial new evidence in support of allegations that Deutsche Bank, Ocwen Financial, and Altisource continue to discriminate against communities of color in 30 metropolitan areas across the United States, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge. NFHA has filed an amended administrative complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). NFHA alleges that Deutsche Bank AG, Deutsche Bank National Trust, Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, Ocwen Financial Corporation, and Altisource Portfolio Solution, Inc. fail to provide required routine maintenance on bank-owned homes in middle- and working-class African American and Latino neighborhoods, while Deustche/Ocwen/Altisource consistently provide routine maintenance on similar bank-owned homes in white neighborhoods.

Badly maintained bank-owned properties create a harmful and dangerous environment for the local community. They also drive down the property value of homes owned by neighbors causing the overall community to be economically depressed. The practice of neglecting foreclosed properties in African American and Latino communities increases the economic divide, perpetuates segregation, and denies people within these communities the right to fair and safe housing.

NFHA filed its original complaint against Deutsche Bank, et al. on February 26, 2014. Deutsche Bank contracts with Ocwen and Altisource to provide preservation maintenance and marketing for the overwhelming majority of properties for which the Bank is listed as owner of record.

The evidence presented in this complaint includes approximately 30,000 photographs of Deutsch Bank-owned homes in communities of color and predominantly white neighborhoods in 30 metropolitan areas. This shows a stark pattern of discriminatory conduct in the maintenance of bank-owned homes in communities of color.

Front/rear view of well-maintained Deutsche Bank property in a white neighborhood in New Orleans (left), contrasted with front/rear of a badly-maintained Deutsche Bank property in an African American neighborhood in New Orleans (right).

View photos of the properties at http://nationalfairhousing.org/deutsche-property-photos/.

“Deutsche Bank has shown that it can adequately maintain real estate in the white communities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, so it is only fair that homes in African American communities in those cities are maintained just as well,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “No one deserves to live next to an unsafe, unsightly structure, especially when its owner controls $1.6 trillion in assets but refuses to do simple maintenance.”

NFHA asserts that Deutsche Bank’s properties in predominantly white working- and middle-class neighborhoods are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly, invasive weeds and vines removed, windows and doors secured or repaired, litter and trash removed, leaves raked, and graffiti erased from the property. “Yet, Deutsche Bank-owned homes in predominantly middle-and working-class African American and Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be left neglected with debris and trash on the property, wildly overgrown grass, and invasive plants covering the yards. Windows and doors are often unsecured, left wide open, or boarded, and graffiti as well as dead animals are left on the premises,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of NFHA.

Smith added, “Poor maintenance destroys a home’s curb appeal and invites vandalism or squatters because the home appears to be abandoned. Also, the blight caused by this neglect results in declining home values for African American and Latino families who live nearby, deepening the racial wealth gap and inequality in America.”

Windows, doors, and holes left open, unsecured, or broken at vacant bank-owned properties allow for water to accumulate and stagnate. As a result, Deutsche Bank’s poorly maintained homes serve as the perfect environment for mold and discoloration to develop. In fact, a recent study conducted by Midwest Aerobiology Labs found 36 molds specific to foreclosed homes and also concluded that 88 percent of foreclosed homes contained a dangerous mold capable of causing childhood asthma and other diseases in humans.

Stagnant water and overgrown grass were frequent issues at homes for which Deutsche Bank is the owner of record in African American and Latino neighborhoods. These provide a fertile habitat for mosquitos, rodents, termites, roaches, and other pests. These pests often carry diseases such Zika and West Nile and present serious health risks to nearby residents. These vermin infestations commonly spread to nearby homes.

“Just imagine the health impact the families in communities of color experience living next door or nearby those poorly maintained Deutsche Bank homes,” said Smith. “By neglecting their properties, Deutsche Bank, Ocwen and Altisource are putting at risk the health of African American and Latino residents living near these properties.”

This isn’t a new problem for Deutsche Bank. In June 2013, Deutsche Bank settled a lawsuit with the City of Los Angeles for $10 million after they were accused of allowing hundreds of bank-owned properties to fall into slum conditions, leading to the destabilization of communities. “It’s my understanding that Deutsche Bank required its preservation maintenance companies to pay most of the $10 million to resolve that case, so you would expect Deutsche/Ocwen/Altisource to monitor maintenance to ensure these shameful, discriminatory practices of neglecting routine maintenance in middle/working class communities of color ended. Unfortunately, we still find these horrid conditions at too many bank-owned homes in communities of color.”

View a map of affected communities: http://nationalfairhousing.org/community-map/.

Below is a list of the 30 metro areas involved in the investigation:

Baltimore, MD Baton Rouge, LA

Chicago, IL Cleveland, OH

Columbus, OH Dallas, TX

Dayton, OH Denver, CO

Detroit, MI (suburban communities) Gary, IN

Grand Rapids, MI Greater Palm Beaches, FL

Hampton Roads, VA Hartford, CT

Indianapolis, IN Kansas City, MO

Memphis, TN Miami, FL

Milwaukee, WI Minneapolis, MN

Muskegon, MI New Orleans, LA

Orlando, FL Philadelphia, PA

Prince George’s County, MD/Washington, DC

Providence, RI

Richmond, VA

Tampa, FL

Toledo, OH

Richmond/Vallejo, CA

The fair housing organizations joining NFHA in filing the complaint include:

HOPE Fair Housing Center
245 W. Roosevelt Road #107
West Chicago, IL 60185

Open Communities
614 Lincoln Avenue
Winnetka, IL 60093

South Suburban Housing Center
18220 Harwood Avenue
Homewood, IL 60430

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia
626 East Broad Street #400
Richmond, VA 23219

Toledo Fair Housing Center
432 North Superior Street
Toledo, OH 43604

Fair Housing Continuum
4760 N US Highway 1, Suite 203
Melbourne, FL 32935

Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center
404 S Jefferson Davis Pkwy
New Orleans, LA 70119

Denver Metro Fair Housing Center
3280 Downing Street, Suite B
Denver CO 80205

Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council
759 N Milwaukee Street, Suite 500
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Fair Housing Center of West Michigan
20 Hall Street SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center
505 Riverside Drive
Dayton, OH 45405

The Housing and Research and Advocacy Center
2728 Euclid Avenue, Suite 200
Cleveland, OH 44115

Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches
1300 W Lantana Road, Suite 200
Lantana, FL 33462

Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana
615 N Alabama Street, Suite 426
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Central Ohio Fair Housing Association
175 South 3rd Street, Suite 580
Columbus, OH 43215

Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc.
11501 NW 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33168

Connecticut Fair Housing Center
221 Main Street, 4th Floor
Hartford, CT 06106

North Texas Fair Housing Center
8625 King George Drive, Suite 130
Dallas TX 75235

Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
1314 Lincoln Avenue, Suite A
San Rafael, CA 94901

NFHA and its member agencies are represented by Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC and Soule, Bradtke & Lambert.

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

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.

 

Attention Housing Providers: Have You Been a Victim of Insurance Discrimination?

Posted on 06. Jul, 2017 by

The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), also known as “Section 8”, helps low-income residents across the United States pay for rental housing. Many families and individuals rely on this federal program to subsidize rent in the private housing market (learn more).

Unfortunately, there have been reports of discrimination by insurance companies against housing providers who rent to tenants using the HCVP, or who rent to a high proportion of such tenants.  How do you know if you’ve been a victim of this type of insurance discrimination?  Your insurance company or agent may have asked if you rent to tenants who use vouchers, or what proportion of your tenants use vouchers.  They may have raised your rates, canceled your policy, refused to renew, or even refused to write you a policy in the first place. Read More…

Finance Authority of New Orleans Announces Down Payment Assistance Program

Posted on 03. Jul, 2017 by

Have you been thinking about buying a home in New Orleans?  The Finance Authority of New Orleans has just announced a new down payment assistance program.  Qualifying buyers can chose between an interest-free down payment loan of up to 10% of the purchase price, or a grant of up to 5% of the purchase price.  Read more here, then sign up for a Homebuyer Education Class.  You’ll learn all about the home buying process, including your fair housing rights.

Fair Housing & LGBTQIA+ Communities: Know Your Rights!

Posted on 30. Jun, 2017 by

Many people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual (LGBTQIA+) don’t realize that they have the legal right to fair housing access. It’s true that the federal Fair Housing Act only explicitly outlaws discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status and does not directly include sexual orientation or gender identity. However, in many cases, there are still protections for queer and trans people in place. Let’s look at some examples: Read More…

Emotional Support Animals and Support Animals

Posted on 03. Apr, 2017 by

Healthy Homes on Humanist Perspectives

Posted on 27. Mar, 2017 by

Listen: Executive Director Cashauna Hill discusses the Healthy Homes Ordinance, the New Orleans housing affordability crisis, and other issues related to fair housing in the New Orleans Area on the “Humanist Perspective.”