[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish Agrees to Halt Discriminatory Zoning Rule, Fair Housing Groups Call 'Blood Relative Ordinance' Illegal

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Nov 13 22:50:06 EST 2006

St. Bernard Parish Agrees to Halt Discriminatory Zoning Rule, Fair Housing
Groups Call 'Blood Relative Ordinance' Illegal

11/13/2006 2:06:00 PM


To: National Desk

Contact: Jonathan P. Hooks of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 13 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Today, fair housing advocates,
joined by a local property owner, announced an agreement with St. Bernard
Parish to suspend enforcement of a September ordinance barring single-family
homeowners from renting to anyone except blood relatives without the special
permission of the Parish Council. The Parish agreed to the order the
advocates requested after they filed a motion last week asking the federal
district court in New Orleans to block the law.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and the owner,
Wallace Rodrigue, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Parish alleging
that the ordinance discriminates against minority families seeking housing,
and perpetuates the parish's history as a segregated, predominantly white
community. Representing the plaintiffs are the Lawyers' Committee for Civil
Rights Under Law, a national civil rights organization, and the law firm
Relman & Associates. While the ordinance will not be in effect, the parties
will still prepare the case for trial.

"Given the history and the effect of this ordinance, the facts are clear:
St. Bernard is trying to keep out Blacks and Hispanics," said Joseph D.
Rich, Director of the Fair Housing and Community Development Project at the
Lawyers' Committee. Rich added, "With such a pervasive and immediate need
for housing, particularly among minorities, this agreement will open doors
for many families to return to New Orleans."

The complaint attacks the discriminatory ordinance and seeks to preserve the
pre-hurricane status quo, which allowed the rental of single family homes.
The suit alleges that the blood- relative ordinance restricts single-family
home owners like Rodrigue from repairing and providing rental housing that
is urgently needed in the wake of the storm -- and disproportionately needed
by minorities. Minorities in St. Bernard Parish have a far greater need for
rental housing than whites. According to 2000 census data, 45 percent of
African Americans rely on rental housing whereas only 21 percent of whites
reside in rental units. At the same time, the blood relative ordinance would
effectively limit rentals to whites only, since whites own virtually all
single-family homes in the parish (93 percent according to 2000 census

The fair housing complaint also points to statements from the Parish showing
the discriminatory intent behind the ordinance. For example, Councilman
Taffaro noted that the Council's intent was "to maintain the demographics,"
while Council Chair Dean conceded that the ordinance was passed to "block
the blacks from living in these areas." Further, the plaintiffs cite a
recent history of actions by the Parish to prevent minorities from residing
in the parish, such as the Council's decisions systematically denying
permits to owners seeking to lease units in Village Square, a predominantly
non-white neighborhood, while allowing rental in other areas.

Based on these factors, the suit claims that St. Bernard passed the
ordinance to intentionally exclude them. The federal Fair Housing Act
prohibits intentional discrimination that "makes unavailable" any housing,
as well as government actions which have a disparate effect on minorities.

John P. Relman, a nationally-recognized Washington D.C. civil rights lawyer,
noted, "St. Bernard's blood relation ordinance perpetuates segregation by
pulling up the drawbridge to stop people of color from entering the Parish.
It is wrong and illegal."

In addition to denying rental housing to families in need of them, the
complaint also alleges that it harms owners who would otherwise be able to
rent out their homes. One of the plaintiffs, Rodrigue, is a lifelong
resident of St. Bernard Parish who owns several single-family residences
there. Before Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife lived in one of the
residences and they were preparing to renovate and rent two others. After
the hurricane, they still desired to rehabilitate and rent their
single-family properties, however, they have been prevented from doing so by
the blood-relative ordinance. Because the Rodrigues do not have blood
relatives who are available to live in their single-family residences, these
properties will remain empty despite the severe shortage of housing caused
by the hurricane. Further, without the prospects of rents, the Rodrigues
cannot afford to rehabilitate these properties at a time when the need for
rental housing reconstruction is great.



/C 2006 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

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