On Friday, May 10, 2013, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and nine (9) individual plaintiffs agreed to settle a federal lawsuit against St. Bernard Parish alleging that the permissive use permit (PUP) process adopted by the Parish in 2007 was racially discriminatory in violation of the Fair Housing Act. As a result of the settlement agreement, the Parish will pay $900,000 to GNOFHAC, nine (9) individual Parish property owners, and their attorneys. All plaintiffs have agreed to dismiss the claims they filed against the Parish in their January 2012 complaint.
Also on Friday, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) announced its own settlement with the Parish in regards to a separate lawsuit it filed, also in January 2012, which alleged that the Parish “violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in a multi-year campaign to limit rental housing opportunities for African-Americans in the parish.” The USDOJ settlement requires the Parish to undergo comprehensive fair housing training, establish a Parish-wide Office of Fair Housing staffed by at least one full-time Fair Housing Coordinator, engage in affirmative marketing to both developers of rental housing and renters interested in living in the Parish, and establish a rental land grant program to facilitate the development of rental housing throughout the Parish.
Both settlements stem from alleged civil rights violations on the part of the Parish that have unfolded over the course of more than seven years.
GNOFHAC settled an earlier challenge to a Parish ordinance that restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property. In 2008, the Parish agreed to enter into a consent decree with GNOFHAC resolving that lawsuit. However, the Parish and the Parish Council were repeatedly held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the 2008 Consent Order, including for enacting two multi-family construction moratoria that were found to violate the Fair Housing Act. Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle.
GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, “The terms of the agreements that the Parish entered into today- valued at over $2.5 million- indicate that Parish attitudes towards fair housing responsibilities have changed drastically as a result of our ongoing work over the course of the last seven years. The monetary settlement between the Parish, GNOFHAC and nine individual plaintiffs will make those harmed by the PUP process whole again. The comprehensive USDOJ settlement agreement with the Parish is incredibly detailed and has the potential to make great strides in ensuring that everyone seeking to make a home in St. Bernard has an equal opportunity to do so.”
Reed Colfax and Jamie Crook of Relman, Dane and Colfax PLLC managed the litigation on GNOFHAC’s behalf.
The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a private nonprofit organization. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across the metro New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. The activities described in this release were privately funded.
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