Parish to pay over $2 million in damagesMay 20th, 2013 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: News
The U.S. Department of Justice and St. Bernard Parish agreed to settle the long-running fair housing lawsuit alleging that the parish purposely restricted the availability of rental housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for racially motivated reasons. Approved by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, the settlement requires the parish to pay over $2 million in damages to the various plaintiffs involved in the case.
The United States’ lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the parish:
• Passed a law, known as the Permissive Use Permit (PUP)ordinance, that prevented homeowners from renting single-family homes in residential zones without first obtaining a permit from the parish,
• Revised its zoning code to reduce dramatically the amount of land available for multi-family apartments,
• Interfered with individuals’ housing rights.
The lawsuit further alleged that these actions were done to limit or deny rental housing to African- Americans, which is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act. These actions came on the heels of the parish’s other efforts after Hurricane Katrina to restrict rental housing opportunities, including halting the re-establishment or redevelopment of rental housing and enacting a permit requirement for single-family rentals but exempting renters who were “related by blood” to the homeowners. The parish later rescinded these restrictions.
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center will be receiving $900,000 and NOLA Capital Group–a land owner who sought to rent their property and was denied– will be receiving $775,000. Eight private plaintiffs will be receiving $275,000 collectively.
The settlement also requires the parish to create an Office of Fair Housing and hire a Fair Housing Coordinator within 90 days, whose annual salary will be $40,000 and will be charged with promoting available fair housing in St. Bernard. The Office of Fair Housing will be within the Office of Redevelopment and will function as the office that current or prospective developers, renters, landlords, property managers and real estate agents may contact to obtain information about rental and rental development opportunities in the Parish.
Additionally, the settlement requires the parish spend $25,000 a year for three years on a robust print, TV and radio marketing campaign to promote its affordable rental properties. The parish must also create a Rental Land Grant Program that markets available land to developers who are looking to build affordable single and multi-family rental properties. According to the settlement, the parish must offer to the public a minimum of $83,000 worth of Available Excess Lands and Potentially Available Excess Lands to the public for each of the five years that the Rental Land Grant Program shall be in operation.
The Office of Fair Housing will also be responsible for maintaining a list of available rental properties and making that list available for the public via the parish website.
According to the settlement, the Office of Fair Housing will also be required to promote homeownership, and will be required to conduct home buying clinics three times a year. Each clinic will include, at a minimum, a presentation by the Office of Fair Housing about services offered by the Office, financial incentives available to home buyers and renters in St. Bernard Parish (including information about the Rental Land Grant Program), and the fair-housing rights of prospective home buyers and renters. The settlement requires the parish to apply for Community Development Block Grant funding to pay for the new Fair Housing initiatives.
All parish council members, all planning commission members and several parish department heads must attend training sessions with a DOJ-approved Housing of Urban Development Official on the requirements of the settlement agreement and the requirements of the Fair Housing Authority. Planning Commission and parish department heads will be required to do the training annually.
NOLA Capital Group, LLC $750,000
8 private plaintiffs $275,000
Department of Treasury civil penalty $15,000
Fair Housing Coordinator position $40,000 annual salary
Fair Housing Marketing Campaign $25,000 annually for three years