Housing conflict continues in St. Bernard
10th May 2011 · 0 Comments
By Zoe Sullivan
In an ongoing clash over housing and racial discrimination, in early April, St. Bernard Parish rescinded a cease and desist order was aimed at Provident Realty Advisors, Inc. The firm has been working to build multi-family, mixed-income housing in the Parish. Under orders from Judge Ginger Berrigan to “purge itself” of contempt, St. Bernard Parish acquiesced and rescinded its order halting work by Provident. If the Parish had maintained the order, it would have incurred fines of $25,000 starting April 9 until April 12, when the fines would have jumped to $50,000 a day.
According to James Perry of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which is advocating for Provident, this is the fifth time that the Parish has been found in contempt of a consent decree prohibiting St. Bernard from engaging in housing discrimination. The consent decree came as a resolution to an ordinance passed in 2005 that restricted renting properties to blood relatives. This ordinance was found to have a discriminatory effect and so was struck down by the courts.
Parish President Craig Taffaro’s office issued a press release when the cease and desist order was rescinded said that the order had been issued because Provident didn’t have “proper parish permits.” In the same press release, Taffaro said that “St. Bernard Parish has continued to find itself without protective due process.” The statement also expressed the view that cancellation of a hearing on an emergency injunction that the parish requested was “in furtherance of what I believe to be a strategic approach to delaying St. Bernard Parish’s right to be heard long enough that the construction of these developments reaches a point of no return.”
Taffaro spoke with The Louisiana Weekly to explain how the current situation differs from traditional “home-rule” justifications for discriminatory practices. “I think this situation is a little bit unique because it’s an incentive program provided to an individual developer as opposed to a subsidy program for individual residents. So the incentive on this particular development creates profit for a developer as opposed to assistance for residents.” Taffaro acknowledged that the situation could be interpreted as racially based, but said that “St. Bernard is more diverse now than we’ve ever been in our entire history. I think the reality in the growth and the changes in our community speak for themselves…”
Disputing this view, Perry said that the Louisiana Housing Finance Authority has awarded extra points to developers who choose to build in St. Bernard Parish because the community has such a great need for affordable housing units. The New York Times published an editorial about the situation in the Parish at the end of March, lauding the Department of Housing and Urban Development for intervening in what it calls “outrageous case of housing discrimination by the government of St. Bernard Parish.”
Perry told The Louisiana Weekly that “[the] Parish just has to do the right thing. It’s not an overstepping of federal bounds or anything like that. It’s simply making sure that everyone has housing choice in St. Bernard Parish.”
This story originally published in the April 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.