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Lawyers' Committe for Civil Rights Under Law

OCTOBER 3, 2006
1:44 PM

CONTACT: Lawyers' Committe for Civil Rights Under Law
Jonathan P. Hooks, 202-662-8326

St. Bernard Zoning Ordinances Discriminate, Suit Says
Case Challenges Efforts to Prevent Minorities from Moving to Lily-White New Orleans Suburb

ST. BERNARD PARISH, Louisiana - October 3 - An ordinance barring single-family homeowners from renting to anyone except blood relatives discriminates against African Americans and Hispanics, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In St. Bernard Parish, an overwhelmingly white area where over 93% of all such homes are owned by whites, this will disproportionately exclude minorities and perpetuate the parish's history of segregation.

“After Hurricane Katrina, displaced families of all kinds remain in desperate need of housing, especially around New Orleans. But rather than welcome people back, St. Bernard is slamming the door in their face,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee.

The ordinance, passed on September 19th, builds upon other exclusionary measures taken by St. Bernard that have the intent and effect of excluding minorities, the complaint alleges. In particular, the St. Bernard Parish Council has acted to ban and restrict owners from offering rental units disproportionately used and needed by African Americans and Hispanics.

For example, in November 2005, the Parish passed an ordinance restricting leasing of units in multi-family developments. In March 2006, an ordinance barring rental of all single-family homes was passed. The present ordinance creates an exception but one that is essentially limited to whites only. Combined, these ordinances choke off rental housing desperately needed since the storm - and disproportionately needed by minorities. (In St. Bernard, only 20% of whites are renters, while the figure is 45% for Blacks and 31% for Hispanics.)

“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. “The rationale for this new ordinance - that they want to promote owners only - doesn't make sense. It's just a pretext for discrimination.”

The lawsuit seeks an order declaring that the ordinances violate the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604, which prohibits discrimination which “makes unavailable” dwellings on the basis of race or other categories, and other civil rights laws, including the Equal Protection clause of the constitution. In addition, plaintiffs seek a court order enjoining the ordinances.


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