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Remembering the Chicago Freedom Movement

Posted on 27. Feb, 2019 by

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after being hit with a rock during a march in Chicago, IL (WTTW).

Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, and the Fair Housing was passed exactly one week later, on April 11th. The Fair Housing Act was passed largely in response to the mass protests and riots that erupted directly after Dr. King’s assassination. A month prior, the report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the “Kerner Commission Report” was released, and it had concluded that rioting in Black communities was the result of pervasive systemic racial inequalities. The report warned that the unrest would continue without significant, large scale reforms, and in the wake of Dr. King’s death, that prophesy seemed to be coming true. Fears about increasing chaos motivated lawmakers who had previously been resistant to finally support the bill.

Dr. King’s work toward the end of his life set the stage for the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Many know of Dr. King’s work in the South in places like Selma and Birmingham, but his work in later years focused on discriminatory housing practices in Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, King supported the Chicago Freedom Movement, which worked to form tenants’ unions, organized strikes against the high rents in the city, and boycotted businesses known for discrimination.

The Chicago Freedom Movement eventually escalated to include marches through segregated white neighborhoods. The infamous photo of Dr. King being hit in the head with a rock while marching was taken during one of these Fair Housing demonstrations in Chicago. Of the incident, King said “I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” (Source).

It has been over 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and there’s still much to be done. The results of redlining and racist housing practices still remain to this day. In New Orleans, the legacy of these policies has left many native New Orleanians and particularly Black residents vulnerable to displacement. Now, many of our neighbors are being pushed out of the city to make way for luxury condominiums and short-term rentals for tourists. To get involved in the fight for fair housing, sign up for our action alerts and newsletter here.

Fit for a King 2019 Recap

Posted on 11. Feb, 2019 by

Fit for a King 2019 started with an inspiring opening plenary panel, featuring powerful organizers representing three generations of movement-building in New Orleans. Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons described her work with as a leader with the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Barbara Major reminded the audience that building movements is collective work and not to be done alone, and Angela Kinlaw made a point to emphasize the interconnectedness of social justice efforts, tying her work for workers’ rights efforts and education justice to the fight for fair housing.

The summit’s breakout sessions focused on climate displacement, eviction, and advancing LGBTQ rights. The “Defending Against Eviction Crisis” breakout featured Councilmember Donna Collins-Lewis of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council; Breonne Dedecker, Program Manager at Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative; and Davida Finger, Professor of Law at Loyola University of New Orleans. The panel presented on new data pertaining to the eviction crisis in New Orleans and its particular impacts on neighborhoods of color. Simultaneously, Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, led attendees through facts and statistics about climate disasters and their impact on housing. Using case studies from Hurricanes Katrina and Maria as well as the BP Oil Drilling Disaster, Battle painted a clear and urgent picture of the problem and what needs to be done to address it. The third breakout session featured Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of GNOFHAC;  Amber Kimble, of Louisiana Trans Advocates and Baton Rouge PFLAG; and S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal, Attorney and Founder of The O’Neal Law Group. These panelists discussed the legal and community-based approaches to protecting the rights of LGBTQ communities.

After three engaging and enlightening sessions on current efforts and the work remaining, GNOFHAC took a moment to recognize individuals who are going above and beyond to contribute to fair housing work through an annual award ceremony. The Award for Courage recognized Cynthia Kilpatrick for her bravery in defending her family’s right to fair housing after she was discriminated against based on the number of children she has. The Fair Housing Hero Award was a new award introduced at this year’s summit and awarded to the Tulane Law School Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic, for their consistent and dedicated work representing clients in fair housing cases. Lastly, the Mondale-Brooke Award for Fair Housing Leadership and Civic Participation was granted to state senator Ed Price, for his dedicated work to pass the statewide security deposit reforms, which went into effect January 1, 2019.

After the awards ceremony, GNOFHAC welcomed the legendary civil rights activist Diane Nash to the stage for an inspirational and empowering keynote address. Nash spoke of her work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and brought the audience on a journey to understand the strategy behind lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides. Her words led into the final action session, “You are the Movement” which provided attendees with concrete action steps to take immediately to advance the fair housing movement in Louisiana. To keep up with the fight for fair housing, follow us on social media and sign up for our mailing list, where you’ll be notified of action alerts and ways to stay involved.

The real Smart Housing Mix is not voluntary

Posted on 22. Jan, 2019 by

American Can tenants rally against evictions in 2016. The City of New Orleans provided $29 million in subsidies to the developer, but tenants in the affordable units were still displaced. (Photo credit: WGNO.com)

While there’s no debating that New Orleans is in the grip of an affordable housing crisis, there are still some people arguing that more give-aways to real estate developers will somehow correct the problem.

Let’s be very clear: including affordable housing in every new housing development or renovation must be the law, not an option and not voluntary. Developers have proven with their inaction that they will not voluntarily be a part of the solution.

Fair market rents have risen by 50 percent since 2000 while wages remain stagnant, and there are currently 35,000 people on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Even though the City Council previously offered developers voluntary incentives to hold some apartments affordable to average worker, developers haven’t taken advantage of it. That’s why the City Planning Commission (CPC) staff argued in their 2017 study that New Orleans needs the Smart Housing Mix ordinance, which would require apartment and condo developers to include affordable units in their new buildings. The study cited 500 jurisdictions with similar policies before recommending a balanced approach of mandating affordable units while also offering zoning or tax incentives for developers to build these units.   

Only Initiative 2 is mandatory

In August the Council directed the CPC staff to provide text amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which sets the rules and regulations for all property development in New Orleans, in order to add in three potential Smart Housing Mix initiatives. While all three initiatives were described as “mandatory,” only the second initiative really is.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the three initiatives:

  1. Establish a mandatory inclusionary zoning overlay district. This would create zoning requirements for including affordable units in certain parts of the city where there are shortages of these units. But this initiative would only be mandatory if a developer wanted a zoning change. So if a developer wanted to build market rate apartments and didn’t request a zoning change, then the project would go forward without any affordable units.
  2. Create a new mandatory inclusionary base zoning district. This initiative is the real Smart Housing Mix. If passed, it would allow the City Council to create a new zoning district and maps in certain areas of the city, making it mandatory that ALL new construction or rehabilitation projects of 10 or more units include homes affordable to the average worker. The Council would first vote on what percentage of units would be affordable and what incentives to offer developers. They would then take a second vote on the maps where the new policy would apply.  
  3. Create a mandatory inclusionary zoning planned development classification. This initiative would allow for flexible zoning regulations for large development projects that include affordable housing. This is an excellent initiative for developers who are already planning on affordable units, because it could mean a faster approval process. However, a developer can still go forward on a project without any affordable component. The project would simply have to follow normal zoning regulations.

Initiatives one and three should really be considered voluntary, because both would allow developers to build projects without any affordable units as long as they weren’t seeking a zoning change or flexible regulations. The 2017 CPC study concluded that only initiative two—the Smart Housing Mix—with its mandatory inclusion of affordable units, will effectively produce the homes that our people need to continue calling New Orleans home. 

The CPC recently completed its work, and the next step will be for the City Council to vote on the three initiatives. If you want the Smart Housing Mix to truly be effective, please call your Councilmember today and tell them that we can only fix the mix if initiative two is passed.  

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.