Jackson, MS and New Orleans, LA—Today, the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC) announced that a federal court has approved a settlement between LaFHAC testers, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the owners of three apartment complexes, and their property manager in a suburb of Jackson, MS. The suit resulted from a LaFHAC investigation of racial discrimination in the Gulf South, which uncovered the property manager’s refusal to show available properties to African Americans and his comparison of one of them to a zoo animal.
LaFHAC’s regional investigation of housing discrimination in four Gulf South cities during late 2016 and early 2017 covered Jackson, New Orleans, Houston, and Dallas. In 2018, LaFHAC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against Stephen and Sheila Maulding (a married couple), the Mississippi Limited
Liability Company through which the Mauldings own the properties LaFHAC investigated, and the Mauldings’ property manager, James Roe. In September 2020, HUD investigators found reasonable cause to believe that the defendants engaged in housing discrimination at Oak Manor Apartments, 468 Place Townhomes, and Pearl Manor Apartments.
Throughout the lawsuit, LaFHAC represented the African American mystery shoppers—or testers—who participated in the investigation. Their experiences seeking rental units were compared to the experiences of similarly qualified white testers. Black testers were steered toward Oak Manor Apartments, but were either not informed of units in the other properties, or were told those properties were unavailable, while white testers were sometimes shown units in other properties the same day.
According to the HUD determination, Mr. Roe also extensively questioned one of the black testers, who was employed at the time, about his finances, while encouraging a white tester who did not currently have a job to apply. He told another black tester, “I can’t put you at Pearl Manor. The old men would have a heart attack. They would be thinking that I had let the zoo out again,” but then informed the white tester who followed that she would be a great fit for the “nicer” Pearl Manor.
Under the settlement agreement, the owners of the properties are required to pay $123,000. The majority of that sum—$110,000—will settle the claims by the four Black testers and cover attorneys’ fees. The additional $13,000 is a civil penalty paid to the federal government. The settlement also permanently bans Mr. Roe from working in any role in residential property management and requires the owners to hire a professional property manager, implement nondiscriminatory standards and procedures, undergo fair housing training, and provide periodic reports to the DOJ.
“Unfortunately, the lack of value placed on Black lives regularly shows up in our housing market. This investigation and our past reports have found that disrespectful and discriminatory practices are par for the course for Black people seeking a place to call home,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “The four African American testers in this case were subjected to dehumanizing treatment that was entirely unacceptable. Because of the testers’ bravery and willingness to serve their communities as investigators, we hope that tenants in the greater Jackson area will now have greater access to more equitable housing opportunities,” she continued.
Throughout the four cities covered in LaFHAC’s regional investigation, African American testers experienced differential treatment at 53% of the properties tested, or 126 out of 240 tests, including:
50% of the time in Dallas,
60% of the time in Houston,
48% of the time in Jackson, and
57% of the time in New Orleans.
The broader investigation details similarly disturbing incidents and makes recommendations for each city. The report can be found on the LaFHAC website.