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14 Years After Katrina: New Orleans Continues the Fight Against Displacement

Posted on 06. Sep, 2019 by

Last week marks 14 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and forever changed the Gulf Coast. Since that time, New Orleanians have continued to create opportunities for the city and its legendary sense of community to flourish. However, there are still many residents who are finding themselves being pushed out of their homes and losing access to the city they helped to build. 

What’s happening in New Orleans is the result of policies that may have been well-intentioned, but resulted in perpetuating inequity. For instance, the federally-funded Road Home rebuilding program gave homeowners grants that were based on the pre-storm value of their damaged home, rather than on the cost to rebuild.  Because the grant formula failed to take into account the effects of redlining and residential segregation, homeowners in predominately white neighborhoods had homes that were valued higher than the homes that were similar in size and age in predominantly African American neighborhoods. Due in part to the discriminatory nature of the grant formula, 70 percent of long-term white residents were able to return to New Orleans within a year, but only 42 percent of long-term black residents were able to do the same.

Fourteen years after the storm, displacement in New Orleans continues. Long-term residents are being pushed out of neighborhoods due to a variety of factors, including increases in rent and property taxes, driven in part by the proliferation of short-term rentals and the rise in gentrification.  

Despite the grim parts of New Orleans’ recovery, there are positive developments. This summer, New Orleans took a big step toward regulating short-term rentals. Starting in December, STR operators will be required to reside on the property that is being rented in residentially-zoned areas of the city, which is designed to stop the practice of out-of-state speculators turning several homes into short-term rentals that can no longer house long-term New Orleanians. 

Additionally, the Housing Authority of New Orleans has partnered with a private developer to bring a mixed-income development to the Bywater, a neighborhood with one of the highest post-Katrina rates of African-American displacement.  The proposed development will bring 82 deeply affordable housing units in a neighborhood that has gentrified and is now one of the most well-resourced in the city.

14 years after the storm, the fight to keep New Orleanians in New Orleans continues. As we celebrate the recent steps the city has taken to combating displacement, we also remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and pledge to continue to work to keep New Orleans a home to those who made it great.

Newly Proposed Rule Would Make Lawsuits like Road Home and St. Bernard Parish “Blood Relative” Cases Nearly Impossible

Posted on 23. Aug, 2019 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) denounced an extreme move by the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to eviscerate a long-standing civil rights protection known as “disparate impact.” HUD’s proposed rule, published today in the federal register, would make it far more difficult to challenge discriminatory practices that are not blatant or explicit.

Though the term “disparate impact” may not be well-known, residents of South Louisiana are far too familiar with the trials and tribulations of dealing with the Road Home program after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Chief among the problems with the program was its discriminatory funding formula. Initially, the program used what appeared to be a neutral policy of offering homeowners rebuilding grants determined by the pre-storm value of their damaged home. Despite being neutral on its face, the policy resulted in homeowners in segregated white neighborhoods—which had higher pre-storm values—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. Because of disparate impact, GNOFHAC’s lawsuit resulted in HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority putting $62 million dollars back in the pockets of Louisianans to rebuild their homes. It’s exactly this legal principle that HUD is attempting to gut with its new rule. 

Another significant post-Katrina case that utilized disparate impact was GNOFHAC’s challenge to the St. Bernard Parish “blood relative” ordinance. That law, passed in 2006 by the Parish Council, prohibited the rental of single-family residences unless to a blood relative, at a time when 93 percent of parish homeowners were white. The lawsuit, as well as a subsequent disparate impact challenge to a ban on apartment buildings, paved the way for more rental housing available to Louisianans hoping to come home after the storms.

HUD’s proposed rule significantly raises the burden of proof for discrimination, provides special protections for businesses that use algorithms, and appears to lay the foundation for exempting the insurance industry from disparate impact liability.

The disparate impact theory has been used to prove housing discrimination claims since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and has enjoyed bi-partisan support for more than 50 years, beginning with its application by Richard Nixon’s Administration. Disparate impact has been upheld by 11 Courts of Appeals and by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2015 Texas Dept. of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project ruling.

“Whether you’re black, white, a family with children, or you have a disability, everyone should have a fair opportunity to find a place to call home. Disparate impact is not abstract in Louisiana—this legal tool has directly benefitted the residents of our state. Attacking this long held civil rights protection is just another way this Administration seeks to divide our country,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

Know Your Rights for Back to School: Searching for Housing When You Have an Emotional Support Animal

Posted on 16. Aug, 2019 by

Searching for housing when you come back to school – whether in the dorm or off-campus – can be a stressful process, especially if you are someone who has an emotional support animal (ESA) because of a disability. An ESA is an animal that provides emotional support that alleviates symptoms or effects of a disability. One example could be a cat whose presence reduces the symptoms of depression or anxiety in their owner. While any animal can be an assistance animal (as long as it is both necessary and reasonable), the majority are dogs or cats. These animals play an important role in the lives of many who rely on their support, but many tenants unfortunately still experience hardship and discrimination when looking for housing with an ESA.

Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to make reasonable and necessary accommodations for people with disabilities, which includes allowing a service animal or emotional support animal even if they usually have a no pets policy or other restrictions on animals. Housing providers are not allowed to charge a pet fee or pet deposit, or to enforce breed or size restrictions, for a service or emotional support animal. Unfortunately, GNOFHAC still frequently sees individuals with ESAs being denied housing outright, being required to pay large pet fees or deposits, or even being mocked by housing providers who question their disability and if they really need an ESA. A housing provider must accept a letter from a doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or similar provider who is familiar with the disability and the support that the animal provides as proof of the need for an assistance animal.

Whether you are moving into a dorm or an apartment, if your housing provider has denied your request for an accommodation due to a disability, such as allowing you to have an emotional support animal, call the GNO Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100. Help is free and confidential.

GNOFHAC Settles Lawsuit on Behalf of Woman Alleging Willful and Callous Discrimination Against People with Disabilities

Posted on 05. Aug, 2019 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) announced the settlement of a federal lawsuit against the owners and property managers of a Covington apartment complex, alleging they refused multiple requests to move a wheelchair-bound resident to available first floor apartments. As part of the settlement, the defendants will receive fair housing training, change policies related to residents with disabilities, and pay $205,000 in damages and attorneys fees.

Ms. Susan McMullen, the plaintiff in the action and a resident of the Palmetto Greens Apartment Homes, first requested to move into a first floor apartment in the summer of 2017 after surgery left her requiring the use of a wheelchair. Her apartment was on the second floor and was accessible only by stairs. Ms. McMullen alleged that, over the course of the next year, she made three additional requests to be moved to first floor units, all of which were denied by the property managers for the building, CF Real Estate Services. In the meantime, she was left to the humiliating and dangerous task of crawling down the stairs or calling 9-1-1 any time she needed to take out her trash, pick up her mail, drop off her rent, go to church, visit with friends, purchase groceries, or go to doctor’s appointments.

The St. Tammany fire district responded to over 100 calls to Ms. McMullen’s apartment. Additionally, Ms. McMullen’s complaint alleged the fire chief implored CF Real Estate Services personnel to move Ms. McMullen to a first floor apartment. She also alleged that the property managers responded to her requests by placing her at the bottom of a waitlist, even though at least one ground floor apartment was vacant at the time.

Only after GNOFHAC attorneys and the law firm of Bizer & DeReus filed suit against the complex owners and property managers on behalf of Ms. McMullen, did CF Real Estate Services offer Ms. McMullen a ground floor unit.

“The defendants in this case showed a callous and reckless disregard for Ms. McMullen’s safety and civil rights as a person with a disability,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of GNOFHAC. “The Fair Housing Act clearly entitles people with disabilities to the sort of reasonable accommodation Ms. McMullen requested. Anyone who believes they’ve been denied such an accommodation should contact GNOFHAC at (504) 596-2100,” she continued.

The settlement ensures that people with disabilities are prioritized for units that are designed to meet ADA standards and applies to nine apartment complexes across Southeast Louisiana, including:

Palmetto Green Apartments, Covington
Pine Crest Apartments, Covington
North Shore Apartments, Slidell
Lakeside Apartments, Slidell
Riverview Apartments, Chalmette
Parc Place Apartments, Chalmette
Wood Crest Apartments, Chalmette
Magnolia Park Apartments, Chalmette
Marquis Apartments, New Orleans

Ms. McMullen was represented by the law firm of Bizer & DeReus and GNOFHAC attorneys Elizabeth Owen and Peter Theis.

See the full complaint here.

Contact: Maxwell Ciardullo, 504-273-6769,

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. 

Celebrating a win for tax abatement to fight gentrification

Posted on 23. Jul, 2019 by

Last month, the Louisiana State Legislature approved a pair of bills, SB 79 and SB 80, that are designed to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. The passage of these bills, under the leadership of Senator Troy Carter, is a big win for fair housing.  But because changes to tax policy in Louisiana require a constitutional amendment, it still needs voter approval via state ballot in October.

A lack of affordable housing continues to plague New Orleans, as a large number of workers – especially those in the tourism and hospitality industries – are overburdened by their housing costs. Recent research highlights a mismatch between wages earned and costs of owning or renting a home, where growth in costs far outpaces growth in wages. On average, those who make 75% less than the city’s median income pay only 25% less than median housing-related expenditures. Among other causes, the rise of Airbnb as alternative tourist lodging has accelerated the general trend of rising rents, most severely in neighborhoods adjacent to the French Quarter like Tremé, Central City, and the 7th Ward. These historically Black renter neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying to the point that low-income workers who have resided there for generations can no longer afford their homes. These residents are often the same people who create and maintain the tourism industry that attracts visitors from around the world. Affordable housing would preserve not just individuals’ livelihoods, but also the culture of New Orleans.

The citywide tax assessment that will be complete by the end of this year exacerbates concerns about rising home prices. The continuing spike in home prices since the last assessment in 2015 will mean increased tax assessments. Accordingly, residents in the most quickly-gentrifying neighborhoods have expressed fears that with higher tax bills, they’ll have no choice but to cut spending in other areas of life or will be pressed to sell their home entirely. The impact of new tax assessments, however, is still unclear and will depend largely on the approval of pending measures like tax-relief for long-time low-income homeowners.

If approved by voters this Fall, these bills will become an amendment to the state constitution  that will allow New Orleans to freeze or reduce property taxes for low-income homeowners and small-scale landlords who want to keep or create affordable units. Ultimately, this is an efficient route to increasing affordable housing stock in a unique fashion that helps both renters and homeowners without the complications of reliance on federal funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). It is clear that unique approaches are needed: a call for at least 1,500 more affordable units in New Orleans last year was answered with just 84 units built.

Both fair housing advocates and government officials agree that this is a practical way to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. It presents an opportunity for long-term residents to build and maintain wealth in historically neglected neighborhoods that are at risk of gentrification-driven displacement. Most importantly, tax relief is a measure that directly benefits suffering residents who need support to continue to afford their homes.

One step closer to effective short-term rental regulations

Posted on 12. Jul, 2019 by

After three years of debate and pressure from advocates, neighbors, and city planners to better regulate short term rentals (STR) in New Orleans, the City Planning Commission (CPC) recently voted to endorse the newest STR study – a hopeful step towards passing an effective set of regulations by the July 25th Council meeting. Per the request of City Council, this study considered the provision of several exemptions to the new set of proposed STR regulations but generally rejected them, asserting that the regulations must be given a chance to work before they can be adequately modified.

Last month, the City Council proposed a set of stricter STR regulations championed by Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer, which address and validate claims that STRs are inherently destructive to the residential fabric of neighborhoods. The new changes would re-write the city’s permissive STR code implemented in 2016, most drastically altering the STR landscape by prohibiting a single operator from having more than one STR residential permit and requiring that the operator reside on the same property. This would effectively eliminate thousands of STR listings that fall into the “temporary license” type, previously the easiest to qualify for and thus most pervasive in the city. As that proposal moved forward, some Councilmembers also requested further study of the potential benefits of STRs as economic development tools in certain neighborhoods and whether exemptions to the one-permit-per-person rule could spur development in those areas. 

The study was presented and opened up for public comment at a CPC meeting on June 25th.

CPC staff began by summarizing the study, which – in addition to evaluating the creation of an Economic Development Incentive STR Zone – discusses increasing the cap on the number of commercial STRs in a corridor, and the possibility of “grandfathering” existing temporary license holders. On these concerns, it concludes that regulations should be implemented in their baseline form before being watered down or before the Council adds any exceptions. It points to peer cities with even stricter restrictions and finds little relationship between STR presence and local commercial activity. Most firmly, it argues against a grandfather provision: the “temporary license” was designed to be short-lived by definition.

A host of passionate advocates, professionals, and community leaders backed the study’s recommendations and urged CPC to keep moving forward in establishing regulations that address STRs’ harmful spillover into the acceleration of gentrification and exacerbation of the city’s affordable housing crisis. Speakers told anecdotes of watching their tourist “neighbors” take an Uber from their STR to Bourbon Street without stopping to explore the neighborhood or patronize neighborhood businesses. Some argued that STRs can never equitably function as a development incentive. On grandfathering, Breonne DeDecker of Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative reminded the CPC that its role is to promote policies that protect its citizens, not the investments of speculators.A motion to endorse the study’s recommendations was passed unanimously by the commissioners. CPC’s support of this study puts the new regulations in a good position to be formally approved at the July 25th Council meeting, which will significantly shrink the scope of STRs in New Orleans, hopefully to the benefit of residents. 

Comment today on proposed rule to evict mixed status families

Posted on 09. Jul, 2019 by

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published a proposal that would prohibit financial assistance to persons other than United States citizens or certain categories of eligible noncitizens in HUD’s public and specified assisted housing programs. The proposed rule changes are intended to prohibit families in which at least one member is undocumented from obtaining subsidized housing. If accepted, this would mean that mixed status families would no longer be allowed in public housing, likely displacing at least 55,000 children and thousands more adults from their homes – most of whom are citizens or legally permitted to live in the US. The rule would also prevent undocumented immigrants from serving as lease holders. 

Current rules bar undocumented immigrants from receiving federal housing subsidies but allow mixed immigration status families to live in subsidized housing as long as one household member is a legal resident of the United States. According to the HUD analysis, more than 108,000 people receiving benefits are living in a household with at least one undocumented immigrant. Although members of a family who are in the US legally would be allowed to stay in their homes, it is unlikely that many would do so in an effort to avoid family separation, such as the displacement of one or both of a child’s parents or guardians.

Since subsidies are distributed based on the number of eligible members of the family, replacing households of mixed status with households with only eligible residents would cost HUD at least $193 million. It is likely that HUD would redirect resources to cover these costs, rather than congress allocating additional funds to make up for the shortfall. Doing so could affect the number of households on the waiting list to receive housing who actually get it. Cutting into the budget for maintenance of units could also further reduce the quality and safety of public housing stock. If the rule goes into effect, undocumented immigrants living in public housing would not be immediately required to vacate, a HUD official said. Those affected would be given up to 18 months, through three six-month waivers, to relocate.

Public comments on the rule are due by July 9th, 2019. For more information on how to submit comments and resources about this proposed rule, please visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Housing Law Project’s Keep Families Together campaign at

HUD Proposes Cutting Back LGBTQ+ Discrimination Protections as Pride Month Begins

Posted on 08. Jun, 2019 by

Source: The National Center for Transgender Equality

On May 23rd, one week before the start of Pride Month, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced their proposal to roll back the protections granted by the Equal Access Rule, which requires federally-funded shelters to house residents in shelters that match their own gender identity.

The proposed changes would let shelter providers use “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, any relevant considerations under civil rights and non-discrimination authorities, the individual’s sex as reflected on court document, as well as the gender which person identifies with” to determine where to house residents.    

Sunu P. Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, notes that “a person’s outdated identification documents, or someone else’s religious views” could be used to dictate their sex, directly contradicting HUD’s responsibility to ensure that “every person participating in [their] programs has equal access to them without being arbitrarily excluded.” The change would allow a sex-segregated shelter, for example, to house a transgender person on the basis of the sex inaccurately listed on their outdated ID card rather than their accurate, personal identification — the type of situation that HUD has in the past cited as potentially unsafe for transgender individuals.  

When introducing the “Final Equal Access Rule” in 2016, HUD explicitly mentioned that their motivation for the rule’s introduction was, in part, the evidence provided by homeless service providers, who found that “transgender persons are often discriminatorily excluded from shelters or face dangerous conditions in the shelters that correspond to their sex assigned at birth”.

An estimated 20-40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ+, and 20% of transgender Americans have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.This is a striking disparity: among the entire US population, just under 2% were homeless in 2018.  

The 2015 US Transgender Survey found that 70% of the transgender respondents who reported staying in a shelter in 2014 reported mistreatment in the form of harassment, sexual or physical assault, or being kicked out, because they were transgender.  Furthermore, 26% of respondents who experienced homelessness in 2014 avoided staying in a shelter altogether for fear of such mistreatment.  

Evidence clearly shows that the LGBTQ+ community faces homelessness and resultantly relies on shelters at a much higher rate than the general American public.  At the same time, this community experiences unparalleled levels of unequal, discriminatory treatment when engaging with these necessary services. Housing and civil rights advocates across the country have spoken out against the proposal that would only allow increased discrimination against an already vulnerable population, and call on HUD to “re-commit itself to its critically important mission”.

If you would like to keep up to date on this issue as well as other current fair housing issues, click here to sign up for GNOFHAC’s Action Alerts! 

Fighting the Battle for Housing for Veterans

Posted on 24. May, 2019 by

This memorial day, as we take time to remember those who lost their lives in combat, here at GNOFHAC we are thinking about those who come back from serving in the military and then have to begin the battle of finding a home to live in.

            Despite the financial security the military once offered, today’s veterans are 5% less likely then the average American to be able to afford their housing costs, putting Louisiana’s 284,074 veterans at risk of housing insecurity. In Louisiana, 25% of veterans are living with a disability connected to their service and, while denying someone housing because of a disability is illegal under the Fair Housing Act, disability discrimination continues to harm our communities. Whether this discrimination happens through an outright denial, or through a housing provider’s unwillingness to grant a reasonable accommodation or modification, veterans are especially vulnerable to disability discrimination.

            Even veterans who don’t actually have any disabilities still face discrimination because of perceived disability. Housing providers who hold onto stereotypes and judgments about combat veterans impact all veterans—not just those who are living with disabilities. When housing providers refuse to rent to anyone who served in the military, families across the country are denied the opportunity of safe and stable housing.

Disability under the Fair Housing Act is any physical or mental condition that limit’s someone’s life activities—so whether someone requires a ramp or other modification because of a physical injury, a service or emotional support animal to assist with PTSD or anxiety, or pays their rent with Veteran Disability Compensation—housing providers are never allowed to deny housing because of a disability.

If you are a veteran with a disability who has experienced housing discrimination or believe you have been denied housing because of a perceived disability, please call The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100.

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

Posted on 20. May, 2019 by

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

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

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

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

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

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