Holder’s DOJ Strikes Against Louisiana Again, This Time In St. Bernard Housing Case

The AP has the story of the Justice Department’s latest foray into its “everybody in Louisiana is a racist” crusade brings us to St. Bernard Parish, where a move by the parish government to limit the growth of low-rent multi-family housing after Katrina wiped out most of the tax base has now been branded as a violation of the Fair Housing Act according to DOJ’s racial-justice doyens…

St. Bernard Parish officials have fought for years to limit rental housing for African-Americans “under the pretext of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery planning,” the U.S. Department of Justice alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Parish President David Peralta was not immediately available for comment on the suit filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. It involves ordinances and zoning regulations proposed and fought for by former Parish President Craig Taffaro, whom Peralta unseated in November.

Those included a 2005 moratorium on multifamily housing construction and a 2006 ordinance that barred residents from renting single-family homes to anyone other than a blood relative, both of which the parish repealed after the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Council took it to court.

They also include “an onerous permit-approval process for single-family rentals, the elimination of multi-family housing in large portions of the parish and repeated attempts to block the development of multi-family affordable-housing,” a Justice Department news release said.

“Every person should have the opportunity to choose where they will live. When a local government puts up discriminatory barriers, as St. Bernard Parish has, it violates the law,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a news release. “We will use our enforcement tools to break down such barriers and ensure that people have housing choice free of discrimination.”

Perez’ statement seems a bit ridiculous on its face, as there is no prohibition on black people moving to St. Bernard Parish. There are efforts to keep the place from being overrun by poor people who don’t own homes, and as it happens there is an ample supply of white, Hispanic and Asian folks who fit that description in the New Orleans area as well.

And owning a home in St. Bernard Parish isn’t exactly impossible. As it happens, the average of home sale prices in St. Bernard in November was all of $98,518, and that was actually a decent increase over $83,860 a year ago. Those figures make St. Bernard the cheapest place in the New Orleans area to own a home; the average home price in metro New Orleans in November was $194,121 – or basically double what houses are selling for in St. Bernard.

Calling those folks racist when they’re doing everything they can to keep what meager property values are left in St. Bernard after Katrina essentially wiped out that parish is more than a little bit cruel.

And according to the Census, only 69 percent of the housing in St. Bernard is owner-occupied. And the median household income is $38,000 a year, compared to $57,000 in the New Orleans area as a whole. Yes, 74 percent of St. Bernard is white, but these are hardly rich white folks trying to keep poor black folks out.

It’s about lower-middle class white folks trying to keep their property values completely going down the tubes as rich developers take advantage of cheap land to build Section 8 housing and turn the parish into a crime-infested slum. Regardless of what race the new folks are who destroy your property values, you’re going to fight them.

But the DOJ’s position is that you’re not allowed to use zoning to stop Section 8 housing, regardless of the extremity of your situation, and they’re piling on previous lawsuits that were already filed…

The lawsuit said all of the actions were an attempt to keep black people from moving into the parish after Hurricane Katrina swamped all of St. Bernard Parish, which was 10 percent African-American before the storm, and most of neighboring New Orleans, which was 67 percent black before Katrina hit in August 2005.

Before the storm, African-Americans made up only 4 percent of the parish’s homeowners but one-quarter of its renters, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday. And black families are twice as likely as white families to live in rental housing in greater New Orleans, witnesses have testified.

The Fair Housing Council’s first lawsuit, filed in 2006, was settled when the ordinances it challenged were repealed, but it went back to court to challenge later ordinances.

U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan found, in the second suit, that the parish violated the Fair Housing Act by enacting the zoning ordinances after the hurricane and using them to block a developer’s plans for 288 units of mixed-income housing.

And she repeatedly held the parish in contempt for blocking the construction by Provident Realty Advisors Inc.

The plaintiffs in that suit have asked the court to award $303,700 in damages and nearly $600,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the new lawsuit has at least three important differences from the Fair Housing Council’s lawsuits.

First, she said, it alleges a longstanding campaign of discrimination, “not just the Parish’s treatment of a single housing provider.” That in turn means the department can recover damages for a bigger group and can get more from the court, she wrote in an email.

The department is asking for a court order, damages and a civil penalty.

Another difference is that the claim comes at least in part from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including a complaint from its secretary.

The third is that it challenges a permit process, which wasn’t part of the earlier cases.

This is nothing but a political attack by DOJ on a beleagured parish which has already dealt with previous suits, using racism as a pretext to redistribute wealth to the Obama administration’s constituency groups via whatever court orders and dictated freebies might be had. Getting some headlines by attacking deep-red Louisiana in the process is just part of the fun.

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