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New Orleans news from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

May 16, 2011
Thousands more Black home owners who lost their homes when the levees burst in 2005 would rebuild and return to New Orleans if the Road Home program would treat them fairly.

Post-Katrina housing case continues after D.C. Circuit ruling

On April 8, a federal court of appeals issued a ruling explaining its decision to set aside preliminary injunctions previously granted against the state of Louisiana regarding its administration of the Road Home program. The preliminary injunctions were granted at the request of two fair housing groups and African-American homeowners in New Orleans who filed suit on behalf of families displaced in the wake of hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

The plaintiffs have argued that the formula used to award grants under the Road Home program – under which African Americans were more likely than whites to receive grants based on pre-storm home values rather than the cost of repair – was discriminatory. Therefore, we requested and received temporary relief from the court to prevent the discriminatory effects of the formula from harming more families.

Today’s decision states that we have not yet provided enough evidence to convince this court that we would ultimately prevail. However, the decision sends the case back to the lower court and gives plaintiffs the opportunity to seek additional evidence to prove their case. Thus, the case is not over and we will continue to pursue relief for the thousands of families affected.

We are pleased to hear that state officials share our commitment to reaching a resolution that benefits families without the need for further litigation. And we pledge to continue working with state and federal officials toward that end.

The Road Home case, styled as Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center v. HUD, alleges that the formula used to allocate grants to homeowners has a discriminatory impact on African-American homeowners. Program data show that African Americans are more likely than whites to have their Road Home grants based upon the pre-storm market value of their homes, rather than the estimated cost to repair damage.

The plaintiffs in this case are five African-American homeowners in New Orleans representing a potential class of thousands of African-American homeowners and two fair housing organizations, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the National Fair Housing Alliance. Plaintiffs are represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 70 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Rights groups sue Louisiana over voting rights violations

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF), Project Vote and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson filed a complaint in federal court April 20 on behalf of the state conference of the NAACP and several private individuals, alleging that Louisiana is disenfranchising minority and low-income voters by failing to offer them the opportunity to register to vote as required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

“By failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, Louisiana is denying minority and low-income voters across the state equal access to the ballot box,” said Dale Ho, assistant counsel with LDF’s Political Participation Group.

The NVRA requires public assistance agencies that provide services to low-income residents to offer their clients the opportunity to register to vote with every application for benefits, renewal, recertification or change of address transaction. The complaint cites evidence showing that Louisiana agencies are failing to carry out their responsibilities under this law.

Despite consistently high numbers of participants in Louisiana’s food stamp and Medicaid programs, voter registration applications originating from public assistance agencies have been surprisingly low. As of 2008, voter registration applications originating in these agencies had dropped 88 percent from 1995, despite increased participation in public assistance programs. The complaint also cites the results of agency investigations and interviews with public assistance recipients showing widespread non-compliance.

“Registration at public assistance agencies is important for reaching populations that are less likely to register through other means, including low-income residents, minorities and persons with disabilities,” says Nicole Zeitler, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote. “By ignoring this vital law, Louisiana is denying this right to thousands of its residents every year.”

“Of course, we would have preferred to resolve this matter absent the need for litigation,” said New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson. However, continued Wilson, “the state’s refusal to make the changes required to bring it into compliance with federal law left us with no other alternative.”

In recent years, similar lawsuits in other states have resulted in tremendous increases in voter registration numbers. For example, the number of clients registering through public assistance agencies in Missouri and Ohio has increased more than tenfold following settlement of NVRA lawsuits in those states.

Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes voting in historically underrepresented communities. Project Vote takes a leadership role in nationwide voting rights and election administration issues, working through research, legal services, and advocacy to ensure that our constituencies are not prevented from registering and voting.

For more information, contact Mel Gagarin at mgagarin@naacpldf.org.

 

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