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Back in October and November of last year, I did a lot of talking about some business in St. Bernard Parish, a Parish near New Orleans. You can find my previous update and links to all my writing on this topic here.
In a nutshell, St. Bernard is 81.6% white, and the housing is mostly single-family homes. Some developers are trying to build apartments that will be more affordable to low-income individuals, a group in that area in which blacks are overrepresented. Well, white city leaders have a PROBLEM!!! with this, and have gone to great lengths to prevent the building of this affordable housing, including lengths of dubious legality, which can be found at my link above.
So construction on the apartments finally started, but then:
A roiling battle over four mixed-income apartment buildings in St. Bernard Parish reached a boil Friday, with Parish President Craig Taffaro ordering a halt to construction after the developer’s attorneys forced the case out of a state judge’s hands and back into federal court.
Within hours, however, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan called foul, ordering parish officials to “purge themselves of contempt” by today at 5 p.m. or begin paying $25,000 per day in fines, then $50,000 per day after Tuesday.
For some reason, Taffaro had ordered this halt “three days after the Parish Council repealed two ordinances that restrict mult-family and rental properties.”
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair housing enforcement officials have said they would block federal money coming into the parish — and possibly to Louisiana as a whole — if the parish did not rescind the ordinances. HUD officials said the laws discriminate against African-Americans who are disproportionately in need of such housing in the New Orleans area.”
People, what the hell is going on here?
I have to say something about this craziness. I will tell the story of racist housing policy in St. Bernard Parish, LA below, and hope to follow up down the line, as the story develops. What follows would be hilarious if it weren’t so… nefarious.
St. Bernard Parish is located to the south of New Orleans. Whereas New Orleans is 67% black, St. Bernard Parish just a few miles away is only 7.6% black.
Hurricane Katrina severely damaged both St. Bernard Parish and Orleans Parish (whose boundaries are identical with New Orleans city). In St. Bernard, nearly all of the housing where black and low-income renters lived was destroyed, eliminating much of the already tiny black population.
Now, the white residents of St. Bernard are fighting an all-out battle to prevent blacks from returning or migrating over from New Orleans, where there is also an affordable-housing shortage. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which has been fighting against racist housing policies, has a detailed timeline of the battle.
It officially started when Craig Taffaro Jr. (pictured), president of the St. Bernard Parish Council, introduced the infamous blood-relative ordinance, which states that property owners can only rent to their blood relatives. The ordinance passed in 2006. Before the storm, whites owned 93% of the housing stock. (reference) We can see pretty easily the effects of such an ordinance.
The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) sued the Parish for racially discriminatory housing practices and won. The Parish settled, and then enacted an ordinance banning multi-family housing, i.e. most rental housing, affordable housing and most forms of public housing.
The same judge, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who is apparently awesome, found St. Bernard to be in contempt of court and ordered that the ban be repealed, as it also violated the Fair Housing Act. She also ordered St. Bernard to pay fees, costs and damages to GNOFHAC. So the Parish went ahead and repealed the ban, simply switching it for a year-long moratorium on multi-family building.
Provident Realty Advisors then applied to the Parish to build affordable housing projects. After a public hearing rife with racist statements both implied and open, their application was denied. After GNOFHAC took the Parish to court again, Judge Berrigan found them in contempt of the court order and hit them with more fines. She also had this to say:
Based on the factual record and judged under a clear preponderance of the evidence, the Court finds that defendants’ conduct since March 25, 2009, by subverting the re-subdivision process, has a discriminatory effect on African-Americans and therefore violates the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3604(a), and the terms of the February 2008 Consent Order.
Does St. Bernard Parish get it yet?
DUH, of course not. As a matter of fact, the Parish Council is seeking a ballot referendum that would force any developer seeking to build a development with more than 12 units to have their plans approved by a public referendum, which the developer would also have to pay for. How soon will this be voted on? “In order to get the measure on a Nov. 14 ballot, the parish would have to pass the ordinance and get approval from the state Bond Commission and the secretary of state’s office before Sept. 29.”
Meanwhile, Judge Berrigan is fed up with St. Bernard’s delays in approving Provident’s development application and has granted a THIRD motion of contempt against them just last Friday, saying:
Defendants are hereby enjoined from interfering or withholding approval of Provident’s re-subdivision applications. Provident’s re-subdivision applications are deemed approved.
…If the defendants fail to meet any of the various deadlines without advance notice and good cause shown for their failure, a daily sanction beginning at $5,000 for the first day, and increasing to $10,000 each day thereafter per each individual missed deadline will be imposed.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 11th day of September, 2009.
Booyah St. Bernard Parish Council and racist inhabitants.
This story is developing. So is my analysis. More to come.
From GNOFHAC: Timeline of the Lawsuit
The Root: Keeping St. Bernard Parish White
Read the coverage at the Times-Picayune, starting here: St. Bernard Parish Council housing plan drawing fire
Scathing Times-Picayune Op-ed: Housing bias in St. Bernard Parish is proving costly in the long run
Scathing Times-Picayune Editorial: Legally and Morally Wrong
You can donate to the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center here.
And you can respectfully and without making inappropriate threats contact the St. Bernard Parish Government here to let them know how you feel about this situation.
Cross-posted at Womanist Musings.