[StBernard] Judge holds St. Bernard Parish in contempt over multifamily home moratorium

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Tue Aug 18 08:17:15 EDT 2009

Too bad the A.P. doesn't know she's Ginger Berrigan. Here's an updated

or the second time this year, a federal judge has ruled that St. Bernard
Parish has violated the federal Fair Housing Act by attempting to block the
construction of four mixed-income apartment complexes
tml> in Chalmette.

U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan ruled Monday that St. Bernard was in
contempt of court by denying the apartment developer's request to
resubdivide the four properties, a procedural step needed to get a building

As she did in a similar March ruling against St. Bernard Parish, Berrigan
wrote that "the Parish and Council's intent in subverting the re-subdivision
application process is and was racially discriminatory." The judge's
decision earlier this year dealt with a parish ordinance that banned
construction of multifamily housing developments.

The plaintiffs, developers Provident Realty Advisors
<http://www.providentrealty.net/> of Dallas and the Greater New Orleans Fair
Housing Action Center <http://www.gnofairhousing.org/index.html> , had
argued that the moratorium unfairly discriminated against minorities by
limiting affordable rental housing in the parish. Berrigan ruled in March
that the Parish Council must lift the building ban.

A month after the ruling, the parish's Planning Commission denied
Provident's request to resubdivide the properties at a packed public hearing
filled with hundreds of residents who opposed the apartment developments.

The four 72-unit complexes would reserve 50 percent of their units for
tenants who make less than about $35,000 annually, and 20 percent for
tenants who make less than about $20,000 per year.

In June, Provident and the fair housing group filed a motion for contempt
claiming that the resubdivision denials violated the court order and a
previous consent decree between St. Bernard and the fair housing action

Berrigan ordered that Provident's four requests for resubdivision be placed
on the agenda for the next Planning Commission hearing.

Coincidentally, the Planning Commission voted earlier Monday again to deny
Provident's resubdivisions, before the ruling came out. Planning Commission
Chairman Earl Dauterive said Monday evening he was unaware the judge had
even ruled.

Monday's court order is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle
involving St. Bernard's post-Hurricane Katrina rental policies.

In 2006 the fair housing action center brought suit against the parish over
a Parish Council-approved ordinance that sought to restrict home rentals by
requiring homeowners in the mostly white parish to receive council approval
to rent to anyone except a "blood relative." The parish eventually dropped
the blood relative clause and the matter was settled last year, but the fair
housing group resurrected the case late last year after the council passed
the building ban in September.

Attorneys for the parish had argued in court earlier this month
tml> that Provident was denied the resubdivisions because they did not
provide required documentation about drainage, wetlands and traffic impacts.

Berrigan referenced evidence from the Planning Commission hearings, where
one resident referenced future apartment inhabitants as people who "are
going to sit in the yard or on the balcony all day with the music up,
screaming at their neighbors, dealing drugs."

She noted that "the references to 'crime, ' 'blight' and 'quality of life'
are similar to the types of expressions that courts in similar situations
have found to be nothing more than 'camouflaged racial expressions.' "

A developer with Provident, Matt Harris, also had testified that the federal
low-income housing tax credits, crucial to financing the project, could
disappear if construction isn't finished by Dec. 31, 2010.

"There appears to be a concerted effort, through stall and delay tactics, to
simply outlast Provident's efforts while avoiding a substantive decision on
their application, " Berrigan wrote in the ruling. "By delaying a
construction a month here and a month there while plaintiffs ping-pong back
and forth between the Planning Commission and the Parish Council, defendants
may well achieve their goal."


Yes Mr. Matt Harris. That's exactly what we are hoping will happen. And as
far as the Judge is concerned, I've never heard where "quality of life"
concerns = camouflaged racial expressions.


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