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Flashback to 1997

Posted on 04. Jan, 2019 by

While our upcoming Fit for a King Fair Housing Summit is our 12th annual Fit for a King, GNOFHAC has been hosting fair housing summits for much longer. Before we began hosting Fit for a King in January to honor Dr. Martin Luther King and his influence on the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, GNOFHAC hosted summits each April during Fair Housing Month.

While digging through our archives, we came across this GNOFHAC newsletter from 1997, which featured the 2nd annual summit with the theme of “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing: What are the Barriers to an Open Community?”.  Speakers from the 1997 summit included representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Richmond (Virginia), and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

GNOFHAC’s scope and services have grown since our establishment in 1995, but as we approach yet another Fair Housing summit, the questions raised in 1997 are as relevant as ever. We’ve made significant progress fighting housing discrimination and segregation, but we also face new and worsening challenges including a growing affordability and displacement crisis, a rollback of commitments to Fair Housing at the federal level, and increasing threats from climate change. We hope you’ll join us this year to continue the fight for Fair Housing. Fit for a King is free and open to the public but please register here so we know to expect you. Learn more and help spread the word on our Facebook and summit website

Get your security deposit back: New law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019

Posted on 31. Dec, 2018 by

Has your landlord unlawfully kept your security deposit?

In 2018, the Louisiana Legislature passed a new law that raises the penalty for landlords who keep security deposits without good reason. The law increases the amount a tenant can receive if they win their case to three times the amount of the stolen deposit.

How does it work?

If a landlord refuses to return $800 of a security deposit, even though the tenant left the unit in good condition, the tenant can file a suit in small claims court. The tenant can win back the original $800 that was wrongfully withheld, plus twice that amount (or $1,600), for a total of $2,400.

Are you eligible to recover your security deposit?

Tenants must have moved out after January 1st, 2019, as well as:

  • Requested their security deposit back in writing
  • Provided a forwarding address
  • Believe that the deposit is not being withheld for good reason, like damage to the property.

If the landlord does not return the deposit within 30 days of being notified, the tenant may be able to recover three times the amount of the deposit.

If you have any questions about this law or believe that your landlord has wrongfully retained any portion of your security deposit, please call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100 or Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at 504-529-1000.

Join the Fight for Fair Housing

Posted on 28. Dec, 2018 by

When I first came across the job description for the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, I was immediately interested. Upon further research, I fell in love with the mission of GNOFHAC and felt qualified and confident in the position’s responsibilities: social media, web design, and educational outreach via tabling and attending community events. I began the application process right away, which steered me to a different organization entirely — Serve Louisiana, Louisiana’s oldest service organization through the national organization Americorps.

My time thus far as GNOFHAC has been invaluable, and I’m only a quarter of the way into my service term. So far, I’ve been able to establish connections with prominent figures and organizations in the community, learned to facilitate Fair Housing trainings, provided fair housing outreach materials to hundreds of individuals, as well as take on long term projects like designing a new website and revamping our social media and blog. I am more than passionate about the work that this organization does, and I am proud to be able to contribute to its mission on a daily basis.

In addition to the experience so far at my placement, Serve Louisiana has also contributed to my professional growth by providing professional development summits, trainings, and access to conferences through connections that I wouldn’t have been able to make alone. Our monthly member meetings allow corps members to put into practice their skills in facilitation, event planning, and networking, and the entire corps provides a network of various organizations and circles that individual organizations may not have access to.

My service at GNOFHAC has been a glimpse into my dream job, and has helped me in designing a vision for my professional future. I love Fair Housing work and contributing to my community full time, and am excited to see what the rest of the service year brings.

GNOFHAC is currently looking for a Community Engagement Coordinator to serve with us through Serve Louisiana for a ½ year term beginning on February 1st. Corps members receive a living allowance and educational award at the end of their term. For more information or to apply, visit www.servelouisiana.org.

Single mom of five priced out of New Orleans

Posted on 20. Dec, 2018 by

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, so when Danira Ford talks about “home,” she means the Gentilly neighborhood. Ford has spent most of her life in Gentilly: growing up on Pressburg Street in a family home, attending F.W. Gregory Junior High School and graduating from John F. Kennedy Senior High School.  

“I’m from Gentilly just like my mom,” Ford says. “I’ve lived here almost my entire life, but now I’m being priced out, and I can’t afford to live here anymore.”

Ford isn’t alone. More than half of all renters in New Orleans are considered cost burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and a high percentage of those are severely cost burdened, spending 50 percent or more of their incomes on housing.

A single mother with five children, Ford recently returned to the Pressburg home, but it’s under very unfavorable conditions. Unable to find an affordable apartment anywhere in New Orleans, much less Gentilly, she and her kids sleep in a single bedroom.

Last year, the family was forced to live in the Salvation Army Shelter until Ford managed to secure temporary rental assistance for a three-bedroom home in New Orleans East. But when the assistance ran out, she had no choice but to go back to the Pressburg house.

Ford recalls a time when Gentilly, like most New Orleans neighborhoods, was affordable, but that was long ago. She saw housing prices rising during the Hurricane Katrina recovery, and now it’s simply untenable for many working class families.

“Either you work like 80 hours a week, or you could end up under the bridge,” Ford says.

While New Orleans’ affordable housing crisis has existed for many years, 2019 could be the year that the City Council does something about it. The proposed Smart Housing Mix ordinance would mandate a percentage of all new or significantly rehabbed housing developments (10 or more units) include a percentage of affordable units. 

Ford hopes that the City Council will pass the measure. If they fail to do that, however, it’s reached a point where she thinks that the only way for her and her children to succeed is by moving out of New Orleans. What’s frustrating about leaving is that her older kids are getting a quality education from Morris Jeff Community School, and then there are the intangibles.

“When it comes to moving, I’m afraid of the unknown—what can happen to us without family and no roots?” Ford asks. 

We need to take action now to stop our neighbors like Ms. Ford and her children from being priced out. Please call your City Councilmember and both At-Large Councilmembers today to tell them to vote YES on the Smart Housing Mix. Find Councilmembers’ phone numbers here: https://council.nola.gov/councilmembers/.

 

What is the Homeownership Protection Project?

Posted on 14. Dec, 2018 by

In the chaotic days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many homeowners had a difficult time figuring out what resources were available to help them rebuild their damaged homes. In order to help homeowners navigate the bureaucratic maze, GNOFHAC and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) launched the Hurricane Relief Project in April 2006. In 2007, in response to rising foreclosure rates and abusive lending terms, GNOFHAC became a HUD-certified housing counseling agency, and the Hurricane Relief Project’s name was changed to the Homeownership Protection Project (HOP). HOP now focuses its efforts on foreclosure intervention counseling, and, working directly with homeowners in crisis, HOP has helped save hundreds of homes from being lost to foreclosure.

Homeownership is critical to many families in New Orleans. Many long-time homeowners pay less on their mortgage than they would in rent, and therefore continued homeownership is their best opportunity to stay in New Orleans. Homeownership also provides financial stability to many families though the building of equity. According to the Census Bureau, the median net worth of a homeowner in the United States is $199,600. The median net worth of renters, meanwhile, is $2,200, barely 1 percent of that amount. Homeownership also provides one of the most powerful tools to addressing the racial wealth gap – as of 2013, the median net worth of white families in the US was $134,100, while the median net worth of Black families was $11,100. It is clear that expanding access to homeownership is critical to fixing the racial wealth gap, and this is one of the many reasons that GNOFHAC continues to help homeowners fight foreclosure.

One homeowner that has received help through GNOFHAC’s Homeownership Protection Project is Ms. Eunice Sylvest. A native of New Orleans, Ms. Sylvest was ready to become a first time homebuyer in the summer of 2005. She had picked out a home in Harvey and was set to go to closing when Hurricane Katrina hit. Ms. Sylvest evacuated for the storm but was able return to New Orleans in time to complete the purchase of her home on December 28, 2005. Unfortunately, in 2012, Ms. Sylvest began experiencing severe health issues that put her out of work, causing her to fall behind on her mortgage payments. Having defaulted on her mortgage and unsure if she would be able to keep her home, Ms. Eunice contacted the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center in 2014. She met with Brad Hellman, a housing counselor, who reviewed options with her and assisted her with a loan modification application. In July of 2014, Ms. Eunice was approved for a loan modification that lowered her payments from $1449 to $897 per month. She remains current on her payments today. Without GNOFHAC’s help, Ms. Sylvest might not have been able to afford to stay in the New Orleans area. Fortunately, Ms. Sylvest contacted GNOFHAC in time to save her home, and she encourages any homeowners experiencing hardship to contact GNOFHAC for homeownership counseling services. It could be the difference between losing their home and saving it. If you or someone you know may be facing foreclosure, call us at (504) 596-2100. Help is free and confidential.

GNOFHAC welcomes Diane Nash to Fit for a King 2019

Posted on 07. Dec, 2018 by

We’re thrilled to welcome Diane Nash as the Keynote Speaker for Fit for a King 2019. You won’t want to miss your chance to hear from this legendary Civil Rights leader and strategist! Learn more about the conference and register here.

A Chicago native who had never experienced segregation in public accommodations before moving to the South, Diane Nash went on to become one of the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement. Nash’s involvement in the nonviolent movement began in 1959 while she was a student at Fisk University. In 1960 she became the chairperson of the student sit-in movement in Nashville, Tennessee—the first southern city to desegregate its lunch counters—as well as one of the founding students of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. In 1961 she coordinated the Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, a story which was documented in the recent PBS American Experience film Freedom Riders.

Her many arrests for her civil rights activities culminated in Nash being imprisoned for 30 days in 1961, while she was pregnant with her first child. Undeterred, she went on to join a national committee—to which she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy—that promoted passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nash later became active in the peace movement that worked to end the Vietnam War, and became an instructor in the philosophy and strategy of non-violence as developed by Mohandas Gandhi.

Diane Nash is the recipient of numerous awards, including the War Resisters’ League Peace Award; the Distinguished American Award presented by the John F. Kennedy Library; the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum; and an honorary doctorate of human letters from Fisk University, her alma mater. Most recently, Nash delivered the 2009 Slavery Remembrance Day Memorial Lecture in Liverpool, England.

Her work has been cited in numerous books, documentaries, magazines, and newspaper articles, and she has appeared on such TV shows and films as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Spike Lee’s Four Little Girls, and PBS’s Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965.

Check out this video of Nash and last year’s Fit for a King keynote speaker, Bree Newsome. We hope to see you at this year’s summit! Email rmitchell@gnofairhousing.org with any event related questions.

Stating the Unsaid: Sexual Harassment in Housing

Posted on 07. Nov, 2018 by

The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the lasting effects that sexual harassment and assault have on survivors. From the workplace to public spaces, survivors are sharing their stories and voicing their experiences. An area that has not received as much attention, however, is the sexual harassment and assault that takes place in the home.

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.

In August, 2018 the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) filed suit in federal court against Jerry Kelly Jr. after former tenants and a previous leasing agent alleged, among other things, that Mr. Kelly grabbed the buttocks of a woman during lease signing, entered a unit without notice while a tenant was showering, and exhibited a preference to rent to “young, skinny, white girls.”

“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,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director at GNOFHAC. “The allegations in this case should concern us all, and we implore any person with knowledge of similar behavior to report their suspicions to the Fair Housing Action Center so that we can prevent future harm,” she continued.

If you are experiencing sexual harassment in housing, the Fair Housing Act protects you and is an important tool to hold the perpetrator accountable. Contact the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100 or 877-445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Know How You’re Protected Under the Law

Posted on 30. Oct, 2018 by

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in Louisiana, one of the states with the highest rates of female homicide victims, there is an especially urgent need for awareness and action.

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 often lead to 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, they often have 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.

GNOFHAC Sues Local Landlord, Tenants Allege Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Posted on 29. Aug, 2018 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) filed suit in federal court against Jerry Kelly Jr. and a number of LLCs he owns. In the suit, former tenants and a previous leasing agent allege, among other things, that Mr. Kelly grabbed the buttocks of a woman during lease signing, entered a unit without notice while a tenant was showering, and exhibited a preference to rent to “young, skinny, white girls.”

GNOFHAC began its investigation into Mr. Kelly after former tenants of his multiple Uptown apartments made allegations against him on social media forums. Soon after, a former leasing agent with detailed knowledge of Mr. Kelly’s rental practices independently contacted GNOFHAC and corroborated that Mr. Kelly discriminated against current and prospective tenants based on sex.

One previous tenant, who was 20 years old when Mr. Kelly rented to her, shared during an interview with GNOFHAC that Mr. Kelly repeatedly let himself into her apartment without warning, regularly asked her for dates, told her he would reduce her rent if she “set him up on a date” with one of her friends, and admitted he only rents to women. After only six months, the tenant broke her lease and moved in with friends to escape Mr. Kelly’s advances.

The former leasing agent who contacted GNOFHAC reported that Mr. Kelly harassed several of his female tenants through sexual propositions, unauthorized and unannounced entry into their apartments, requests for dates, and multiple late-night phone calls.

GNOFHAC also conducted an undercover investigation of Mr. Kelly’s rental practices using mystery shoppers. One mystery shopper in her early 20s reported that during a conversation in his office, Mr. Kelly openly stared at her body and nibbled his lips as he looked at her legs. Mr. Kelly told another mystery shopper in her 30s that she was “an all grown up woman” and that she was too “pristine and together” to live in the apartment he was showing her. Mr. Kelly promptly and reliably returned the calls of female mystery shoppers and met with them in person about the advertised apartment units, but did not return any phone calls from male mystery shoppers.

“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,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director at GNOFHAC. “The allegations in this case should concern us all, and we implore any person with knowledge of similar behavior to report their suspicions to the Fair Housing Action Center so that we can prevent future harm,” she continued.

GNOFHAC is represented in this matter by the Tulane Law School Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic and by GNOFHAC attorneys Elizabeth Owen and Peter Theis. The full legal complaint is available here.

Contact: Maxwell Ciardullo, 504-273-6769, mciardullo@gnofairhousing.org

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The work that provided the basis for this release was supported, in part, by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this release. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government. 

Staff Spotlight: Meena Haque

Posted on 18. Jul, 2018 by

In this series, we’ll be highlighting the contributions our fabulous staff makes to our organization. After all, any organization is only as powerful as its people–and ours are powerful indeed. While many of our staff members work in an outreach capacity and engage directly with our clients and supporters, some of our staff remain behind the scenes. I’m Aviv Rau, a summer intern working in the Education & Outreach Department. To kick it off, I decided to start by interviewing Meena Haque, GNOFHAC’s Development Manager. In our interview, Meena stressed the importance of coalition-building and collaborating for social justice work, the racial justice lens that guides her work, and her strong commitment to fighting for fair housing. She also shared a glimpse at her typical day in the office and what her job here entails.

If you had to describe your job here in a sentence or less, how would you summarize it?

I am the Development Manager for the Fair Housing Action Center and I work on bringing money into the organization, whether that’s through individual giving, fundraisers, events, sponsorships, grant-writing, or an annual appeal or monthly giving programs.

What brought you to GNOFHAC?  

I graduated from Syracuse University, where I studied Political Science and International Relations and minored in Middle Eastern Studies and LGBT Studies. The first job I had right after college was working for UNICEF, which is housed under the United Nations. I was doing community engagement and community outreach with them and raising awareness and funds for issues different children face around the world, whether that’s natural disasters, famine in different parts of Africa, Syrian refugees, or working with Palestinian children. After that, I worked for other nonprofits, including an anti-human trafficking organization and the National Audubon Society where I did environmental and conservation work. What led me to fair housing was realizing that my values and beliefs align more so with civil rights organizations and social justice groups. As much as I love environmental work, I wasn’t doing the environmental work I wanted to do on the racial and environmental justice side. I wanted to go back to something that was racial justice-oriented, and I came across this position and applied. To me, fair housing is about ending the racial wealth gap in New Orleans and in Louisiana. You have to have a very strong commitment to social justice to be passionate about this type of work.

What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your time here thus far?

There have been a lot, but one valuable lesson I’ve learned is that when you collaborate and join forces with different and like-minded groups, you can create a bigger impact and send a bigger message. It’s just a myth that there’s a limited amount of funds and resources when in actuality there is a lot of money out there. I think my favorite aspect of my job is the ability and privilege to meet different people in different walks of life. I just got back from Denver a few weeks ago where I met with a fair housing cohort. The group itself was about 20 folks and they represented seven or eight different fair housing organizations from all over the country. It was really cool to meet other groups that are doing things similarly and differently, but also to hear everyone’s personal stories of why they’re involved. I learned about this issue from an interfaith perspective–so me being Muslim, how am I using my faith in activism to fight against certain issues? But also there were folks in the cohort who were Jewish and they were talking about what it means to be Jewish doing this work and how they use their faith and their activism to fight for housing issues. It was cool to hear that. My favorite part is the ability and opportunity to meet really different people, whether it be folks who are doing similar work or folks who are receiving our services.

What does your typical day at the office entail?

It depends. I just started with the organization back in late October, so in terms of what fair housing entails, I’ve still been learning the ropes, whether that’s applying for grants or just doing more research on my own. My day is either spent doing fundraising and grant-writing, or reaching out to donors and board members or sponsors. In the future, I’m going to start to meet with the donors and major funders to inspire them to give back more because I think everyone has the capacity to give in a way that’s personally meaningful.

I’m interested in what you mean by “personally meaningful.” Care to elaborate?

It really depends on who I’m talking to. Sometimes if I’m talking to donors, I try to gauge their level of knowledge when it comes to housing justice and housing rights. I try to frame it in a way that they can understand. So if they happen to be really passionate about children and education, I’ll make the connection between housing and schools. If the donors are passionate about health reform and healthcare, then I can talk to them about how if people don’t have access to safe homes and they live in dilapidated homes or areas that are compromising their health, then how are they functioning as healthy and contributing members of society? It really depends on who I meet with and who I talk to because having them teach me where they are helps me frame the work that I’m doing a little bit better. I try to always paint a narrative whether it’s talking to individual donors and board members or talking to people who work for national foundations–program officers, for example.

Which local organization/initiative/coalition/activist would you like to should out for the work they’re doing and why?

Gosh, there are so many! I really like Paper Monuments. They are committed to showing New Orleans history from a racial lens; Take ‘Em Down NOLA was behind the movement to take down the Confederate statues in New Orleans. These groups ask important questions from a digital, visual, and oral storytelling lens, like what are we doing to showcase the authentic history of New Orleans? Also, the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has a campaigns to fix people’s broken tail lights because that’s one of the routine stops police officers do when they pull over people of color. DSA is going around to different communities and different neighborhoods and volunteering their time to check people’s taillights, so that police officers don’t have an excuse to pull them over.

What is one housing-related issue you’d like to make people more aware of?

I want people to see the issue of housing from a historic lens–that segregation is something that was created and has been perpetuated for decades.  Many of the communities we think of as “unsafe” have historically had money divested from them. So when you’re not investing in communities, it’s going to falter, and obviously there’s going to be high crime. So when we divest from these groups, yet then say that they’re not committed to rebuilding their neighborhoods, I think that’s not really looking at this issue from a very fair perspective. I want people to recognize that redlining has been a practice for a really long time. Housing discrimination is not something that’s new. Fair housing means that every person, regardless of who they are and what their background is, deserves to live in a thriving and vibrant community.

Another issue, especially here in New Orleans, is gentrification and short-term rentals (like Airbnb). Those are ruining the fabric of our communities as well. I urge people to do more research and know that by voting we have an opportunity to end these types of heinous things that are happening in our communities. 

Throughout the interview, you’ve referenced your strong organizing background and the social justice lens that informs your work. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like that background helps you to be able to tell stories and use the angle of the story to connect with individual audience members. Is that right?

Exactly, and that’s also why it’s important for me to keep up with what other departments within our organization are doing. That way, I can keep our supporters informed and updated. For example, if supporters care about housing through a public policy lens, then I can talk to them about what our Policy and Communications team is doing. Or if they care about volunteering, I can talk to them about what Education and Outreach is doing. It’s something that I try to be “in the know” about.