Two new lawsuits allege further race-based housing biasFeb 7th, 2012 | By admin | Category: News, Top Story
Two separate lawsuits—one by the Department of Justice, and the additional suit filed by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and other concerned citizens— were made public on February 1. Both the suits are alleging that St. Bernard Parish has exhibited a history of racial discrimination, and has conducted a campaign against affordable housing for African Americans in the parish.
“On Tuesday, January 31, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) along with several individual St. Bernard Parish property owners filed a lawsuit in federal court against St. Bernard Parish alleging that the permissive use permit process (PUP process) adopted by the Parish in 2006 is racially discriminatory in violation of the Fair Housing Act,” the agency said in a statement, following the lawsuit being made public.
“GNOFHAC’s latest complaint alleges that Parish officials, ‘enacted and enforced the PUP Ordinance as part of their overarching and persistent efforts to maintain St. Bernard Parish as a predominantly white enclave.’”
The suit itself states that St. Bernard Parish has been attempting to preserve and discourage any shift in racial demographics through multi-unit housing moratoriums, the enacting of permissive use permit (PUPs) requiring Council approval, and September 2006’s, “blood relative ordinance,” which allowed only a direct relative to rent from the owner of a single family dwelling.
“St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, is an historically segregated, predominantly white parish that neighbors the predominantly African-American parish of Orleans,” the suit says. “Following massive destruction and displacement caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, St. Bernard Parish sought to preserve its pre-hurricane demographics by enacting a series of zoning laws to block the availability or rental and multi-family housing throughout the Parish. These zoning laws were intended to and had the effect of preventing African Americans and other minorities from resettling in St. Bernard Parish.”
The GNOFHAC suit even alleges that Councilmen have openly expressed racial bias.
One example is the complaint filed by Nancy Bain, who was seeking one of the PUPs from the Parish Council back in 2009. The facts of the suit allege that Bain was verbally attacked and her attempts to purchase property were intentionally obstructed. Bain filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Center in November of 2009. Included in those allegations, was a statement attributed to Counciman-at-Large West George Cavignac, who at the time was Councilman for District B.
“Ms. Bain was verbally attacked on multiple occasions by residents who lived near her rental properties and by Parish officials because of her attempts to rent her properties,” the suit alleges. “Ms. Bain was furthermore told by Defendant Cavignac, a Councilmember, that St. Bernard Parish was always a, ‘vanilla community’ and that the Parish planned on ‘keeping it that way.’”
Members of the St. Bernard Parish government did reply to requests for comments, but, under advisement from their attorneys, are not able to comment on the pending litigation.
“Unfortunately, because this is in litigation, I can’t currently comment on that absurd allegation,” said Councilman-at-Large West Cavignac on the statements attributed to him in the suit.
Concurrently, the U.S. Department of Justice also filed suit against St. Bernard.
“This action is brought by the United States against St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana,…in order to, among other things, enjoin and remedy the Parish’s multi-year campaign to limit rental housing opportunities for African-Americans in St. Bernard Parish under the pretext of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery planning,” the Justice Department filing says.
The Justice Department is alleging that the Parish is in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act, and that the breaks are so prolonged and systemic, it presents a clear bias against housing opportunities for African-Americans in the Parish.
Both suits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
“These latest suits stem from civil rights violations on the part of the Parish that have unfolded over the course of more than five years,” the GNOFHAC said in its official statement.
St. Bernard’s ongoing contentions with Provident Realty’s multi-family complexes in Chalmette are also cited in the suits as well, indicating the alleged racial prejudices in housing.
“The Parish and the Parish Council have repeatedly been held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the 2008 Consent Order,” the GNOFHAC statement says, referring to the multiple citations by U.S. District Court Judge Helen Berrigan’s orders to move progress along on the Provident Apartment Complexes, or face tens of thousands of dollars in fines a day.
The GNOFHAC alleges that racial discrimination is the, “clear and consistent theme,” in the current legal battle and of the new suit.
“We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice has taken such a strong stance against racial discrimination in housing by filing suit against St. Bernard Parish,” said GNOFHAC Executive Director. “But [we] regret that such drastic action has been necessary. Everyone should have an opportunity to choose where they want to live regardless of their race and we sincerely hope that new Parish leadership will take the appropriate steps necessary to end discrimination on the part of the Parish once and for all.”
The GNOFHAC suit against St. Bernard was assigned to Judge Jane Triche Milazzo and Magistrate Judge Alma Chazez. The case of U.S. vs. St. Bernard Parish was assigned to Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt and Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson. At the time of press deadline, February 1 at 5 p.m., neither case had been scheduled on the Court’s calendar.
Story by William Dilella