NEW ORLEANS (CN) - In violation of a federal court order, St. Bernard Parish is still excluding black renters to "maintain demographics" in the white-dominated area, a fair housing group and an affordable housing developer say. The builder claims the discrimination has gone so far that the parish has fined construction workers "for having 'too much' dirt on their tires.'"
The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Provident Realty Advisors sued St. Bernard Parish, its president and council in Federal Court.
Louisiana's parishes are the equivalent of most states' counties.
The plaintiffs say St. Bernard Parish, a mostly white area of outlying New Orleans is using zoning laws to keep black people out.
To "maintain demographics," St. Bernard Parish, which lies just beyond New Orleans' predominantly African-American Lower Ninth Ward, has continuously changed its zoning laws, according to the 56-page discrimination complaint.
Provident Realty Advisors claims the parish has just 8 months left before federal housing credits expire, at which point the parish will have frustrated its attempt to build badly needed low-income multi-family housing in the area.
Before the tax credit deadline was extended to December, the parish had almost been successful at sabotaging Provident's efforts to build, the lawsuit states.
Provident and the Fair Housing Center say the racist plan began after Hurricane Katrina: "In 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, St. Bernard Parish passed an ordinance that prohibited any Parish resident from renting a single-family residence to anyone other than a blood relative. The effect and purpose of the ordinance was to 'maintain demographics' by preventing African Americans from moving into the Parish. Plaintiff Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center ('GNOFHAC') sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin St. Bernard Parish from enforcing its ordinance. The Parish repealed the ordinance and agreed to a Consent Order, signed and approved by the Court, which enjoined the Parish from violating the Fair
Housing Act, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1983 for a period of three years, beginning on February 27, 2008," according to the new complaint.
Provident claims the parish had no objections to its plans until Provident advertised they would serve low-income families.
"Defendants' conduct is motivated by racially discriminatory intent, has a discriminatory effect on African Americans, and perpetuates segregation by the parish. Allowed to proceed unchecked, defendants' discriminatory actions will result in the loss of desperately needed affordable housing for the parish and the loss of Provident's investment and tax credits," Provident says. ""St. Bernard Parish had long been a predominately white, highly segregated community, with a dearth of multi-family housing and affordable housing."
The zoning ruse is so transparent, the plaintiffs say, that after construction began, "patrol cars from the parish Sheriff's office were regularly on the sites, and workers were fined for having 'too much' dirt on their tires.'"
There is a history of racism in the parish, the complaint states: "After Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area in August 2005, thousands of evacuees fled New Orleans. When many attempted to flee New Orleans' predominately African-American Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard officials constructed blockades to prevent neighboring residents from entering, even authorizing sheriff deputies to 'shoot to kill.'