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Low-income Residents Face Blatant Housing Discrimination in New Orleans, Study Finds
By Edmund W. Lewis
Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly
NEW ORLEANS (NNPA) - A study released iin late August by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center found that despite an array of programs designed to help low-income residents find safe, affordable housing in New Orleans, 82 percent of landlords either outright reject them as tenants or create insurmountable obstacles that make it impossible for those with Section 8 vouchers to rent units.
"Housing Choice in Crisis" used testers to examine 100 two-bedroom rental properties in the greater New Orleans area with advertised rental rates of $1,250 or less to determine whether available rental units would be offered to residents with Section 8 vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Housing Choice Voucher Program. Essentially, the GNOFHAC found that only 18 percent of New Orleans landlords would accept these vouchers as rental payment without creating any obstacles or additional terms or conditions for prospective renters.Â
Testers found that in 9 percent of the cases in which prospective tenants were denied a voucher, landlords denied Black testers on the basis of their voucher after previously telling White testers that vouchers were accepted at the property. Testers also found that many landlords also used subjective, discretionary measures in determining which prospective tenants they would accept, saying that it would "depend on the person." Two landlords reportedly told White testers that although they did not normally accept Section 8 housing vouchers, they would consider renting to them because they sounded "nice."
According to last week's report, four landlords told Black testers that they would only accept voucher holders as tenants if their voucher amount exceeded the advertised rental rate, which would allow the landlord to collect additional rental income above the advertised rate. One landlord told a Black tester that the advertised rental rate was for "cash-paying tenants" and that if a voucher holder wanted to rent the unit, the price would be increased to the voucher amount of $1,030. The landlord said that the Black tester shouldn't object to the higher rental rate since "no money would be coming out of the [voucher holder's] pocket."
Morgan Williams, interim general counsel for the GNOFHAC, said that there's no denying the racial undertones of the practices of New Orleans area landlords. "The discriminatory intent behind the denial of voucher holders is clear from surveys conducted with housing providers which reveal prominent stereotypes and perceptions of Housing Choice Voucher Holder participants," Williams said. "A majority of the landlords surveyed identified voucher holders in a racially coded fashion. For example, to describe voucher holders as wearing 'dreadlocks.'Â Despite the fact that voucher holders must contribute 30 percent or more of their income towards rent, the use of racially explicit and coded language was coupled with the perception that voucher holders 'don't want to work' and are 'fraudulent.'
"The prejudice that links African-Americans and the social ills of the inner city cause landlords to believe that they are exposing their property to an increase risk of those harms when considering a tenant in the voucher program," Williams added.
Gina Martin, a 42-year-old New Orleans resident who works in the hotel industry as an operator and uses a voucher, saidÂ that while she has benefited from using a voucher it has also been "hard."
"The best part about having a voucher for me has been not living in substandard housing and just being able to find decent housing with a landlord who has actually worked on their property," Martin said.
"The struggle for me has been finding affordable housing," she added. "The way the process is set up, the rents are kind of high depending on what you are making. As soon as you get a job that pays $1 more than what you were making two years ago, the rent goes up astronomically. That has been a real struggle for me."
Martin says she has experienced landlords discriminating against voucher holders by raising rental rates as soon as she informs them that she has a voucher.
Martin added that she was concerned about "people running for different offices in the city who vow to keep Section 8 users out of their areas" and remarks like "'We don't want the government to tell us who we can rent our homes to.'
GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry said, "When one landlord was asked whether or not he would rent to voucher holders, he said, not until Black ministers start teaching morals and ethics to their own so they don't have litters of pups like animals and they're not milking the system."
A number of landlords told testers that they encountered difficulty in getting the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to follow through on its responsibility of making certain that the program runs smoothly and all monies owed to landlords are paid in a timely manner.
HANO has also been criticized recently for not distributing thousands of housing vouchers that could have been used by low-income residents to find affordable housing in post-Katrina New Orleans. HANO's records show that the office has issued housing vouchers to 9,563 families although it was allotted 13,370 housing vouchers by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Perry said that he is particularly concerned about how poor Black children in New Orleans are being adversely affected by discrimination against voucher holders in the city. "Thirty-eight percent of children in New Orleans are poor and live below the poverty line," he said. "When we talk about this idea of not being able to use the voucher, it has a real impact on families' lives in the city of New Orleans. Thirty-eight percent of children in New Orleans live below the poverty line; these are families that would have to rely on vouchers" to find affordable housing, he added.
"This is a very important issue and I think it goes to the core of housing needs that exist in the city of New Orleans," Perry said. "We can't be successful until we can find safe, decent, affordable housing for everyone in the city of New Orleans."
The study said discrimination against voucher holders reflects discrimination against low-income Blacks in both intent and impact and attributed the widespread housing bias to two factors: Discrimination against and stereotypes of low-income African-Americans and dysfunctional administration of the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
GNOFHAC officials made the following recommendations to address the housing needs of low-income residents in the greater New Orleans area:
1.Â Housing analysts should implement a study of whether the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) in New Orleans is meeting its stated goals of increasing integration and enhancing access to opportunity.
2.Â The federal government should immediately intervene to rectify problems with the administration of voucher programs in New Orleans and throughout southeast Louisiana.
3.Â HUD should work in partnership with local officials and HCVP participantsÂ to develop the HANO Board of Directors to enhance oversight of HANO administration.
4.Â The federal government, state of Louisiana and local municipalities should adopt legislation that prohibits Source of Income discrimination.
5.Â Local and national foundations should fund public education campaigns to address prejudice against voucher holders.
6.Â HUD should institute a moratorium on the demolition of addition hard units of public housing in the New Orleans region until it is sure that the HCVP is performing properly.
7.Â HUD should analyze the possibility of taking a regional approach to voucher administration, rather than segmentation by individual Public Housing Authorities.
8.Â HUD needs to address Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) families facing housing crisis, and the federal government should commission a study of the operation of DHAP and how it could be better designed for future disasters.
9.Â HANO and other Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) should implement services to support voucher holders in their efforts to locate housing and attract quality landlords to the HCVP.
10. HANO and other area PHAs should implement services to proactively and reactively resolve housing authority administration disputes and frustrations.
James Perry said the New Orleans study has implications for cities across the U.S. because "the new model for low-income, subsidized housing across the country has been mixed-income housing. It has been one of the main arguments for the demolition of hard public housing units, this idea of providing mix-income housing in communities."
To illustrate his point, Perry used the example of the former St. Thomas housing development, which was destroyed to make way for the mixed-income River Gardens subdivision.Â While St. Thomas was once home to 1,500 low-income families, River Gardens only provides housing for about 250 families.
"The question for all of us is what happens to the rest of those families?" Perry said. "Where do they go? If they don't get to live in the new development, how are they housed? For the most part, those residents got Section 8 vouchers.
"A fundamental question is, can people use those vouchers?" Perry continued. "The vouchers are set up and designed so that they can help to deconcentrate poverty and cause integration in communities. In theory, people should be able to use these vouchers all across the city of New Orleans and the metro area. If they could do that, then we could have a city and a community that are pretty integrated where poverty is not concentrated."
TheÂ report shows that isn't happening, Perry said.
"If voucher holders can't use the vouchers to rent apartments," Perry said, "then it defeats this whole goal of mixed-income housing, defeats this goal of integrated housing opportunities and defeats the goal of deconcentrating poverty."