Two fair housing organizations are alleging that HUD’s Road Home program valued homes in white neighborhoods in New Orleans higher than similar homes in minority neighborhoods.
From yesterday’s press release:
Civil rights and fair housing groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The suit alleges that the Road Home, Louisiana’s Hurricane Katrina recovery program, discriminates against African-American homeowners in New Orleans.
The Road Home, an $11 billion federally-funded program, is the largest housing redevelopment program in U.S. history. The suit is being filed on behalf of five individuals representing a class of more than 20,000 African-American homeowners and two fair housing organizations, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center [GNOFHAC] and the National Fair Housing Alliance [NFHA].
I was born and raised in New Orleans, and until 10 years ago my entire family lived in southern Louisiana. In the late 90’s a few of my relatives along with myself moved away to attend college, get better jobs, or to live with new spouses. Many of them returned before Katrina – anyone who has ever visited that city understands the unique pull of the City That Care Forgot. In 2005, a total of three members of my family plus myself lived outside of the region. Three years after Katrina, that number has tripled.
For one reason or another, my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles have decided to settle someplace else; post-Katrina New Orleans was not for them. But the key element in my family’s migration is the element of choice: in the aftermath of the storm they were all able to return home and their recent departures have been because it made sense for their families. For tens of thousands along the Gulf Coast — and especially in New Orleans — there was never an opportunity to return home. And now, evidence is emerging that many African Americans who did move back home were unfairly deprived of housing assistance extended to their white counterparts, further constricting their already limited choices. Plaintiff’s attorney Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein explains, “HUD and Louisiana [are] offering assistance that Congress intended would permit them to rebuild their destroyed homes but which falls far short of its noble promise by linking it to the depressed values of their pre-storm segregated housing rather than to the cost of reconstruction.”
The foreclosure-driven devaluing of homes in African American and Latino neighborhoods across the country is a crisis that is far from over; and while the lack of federal oversight of the mortgage market certainly played a role, it’s difficult to make the case that HUD was actively discriminating against minorities. Unfortunately, it appears as though this is exactly what has been happening in New Orleans.
As if my hometown didn’t have enough to deal with.
GNOFHAC and NFHA are represented by the law firm of Cohen Milstein, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the very talented Lucia Blacksher of GNOFHAC.
Shame on HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority for not having the commonsense to link the assistance amount to the cost of reconstruction. HUD needs to reiterate what the purpose of the program is—is it to compensate the victim for the value of the home lost, or is it to enable the victim to construct a safe home and resettle in the city?