Louisiana Parish Settles Katrina Housing Lawsuits

May 13, 2013

The U.S. Justice Department says St. Bernard Parish has agreed to a settlement of more than $2.5 million to resolve lawsuits alleging the parish tried to restrict rental housing to blacks after Hurricane Katrina.

The department said the settlement resolves separate lawsuits by the government and private plaintiffs.

The government lawsuit filed in January 2012 alleged that St. Bernard officials fought for years to limit rental housing for African-Americans “under the pretext of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery planning.”

The lawsuit said the actions were an attempt to keep blacks from moving into St. Bernard, a New Orleans suburb.

The settlement must be approved by a federal judge.

Among the requirements, the parish must pay $275,000 to eight people.

It also must establish a new Office of Fair Housing and hire a fair housing coordinator with a gross annual salary of at least $40,000 and spend $25,000 each year in a marketing and advertising campaign to attract renters and developers of multifamily rental housing.

“The right of all of our citizens to enjoy fair and equal access to housing opportunities is guaranteed by our laws,” said Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Katrina struck in August 2005 and St. Bernard was one of the most heavily damaged areas along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

The population of the parish was about 10 percent black before the hurricane struck.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center said the parish would pay it and nine individual property owners $900,000. The housing center had settled an earlier lawsuit which restricted the renting of single-family houses to blood relatives of property owners. But the housing center said the parish repeatedly violated the consent order, including twice barring the construction of duplexes or apartments in violation of federal law.

“Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle,” the housing center said in a statement.

James Perry, the housing center’s director, said in a statement that parish leaders’ attitudes have changes. Perry said the Justice Department settlement “is incredibly detailed and has the potential to make great strides in ensuring that everyone seeking to make a home in St. Bernard has an equal opportunity to do so.”

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