LOUISIANA – The Streamlined Voluntary Conversion (SVC) of the Acre Road public housing community in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana is unlawful due to inconsistencies under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Fair Housing Act, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel argued in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Marrero Tenant’s Organization (MTO) and three individual plaintiffs against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The lawsuit cuts to the core of a HUD process implemented in 2019, authorizing small public housing agencies to convert their remaining properties to tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher assistance without first conducting analysis that is necessary to determine whether a conversion would violate the Fair Housing Act.
The Acre Road development has played a significant role in housing Black parish residents since its creation, and the MTO has long been central to civil rights efforts in the parish. Since the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish submitted its SVC application to HUD, the discriminatory effects on Black households in the development have been profound, and HUD’s March 9, 2023 approval of that application threatens to extend that harm to all remaining residents. HUD’s SVC notice and its approval of the application to convert Acre Road are displacing residents, forcing them to move to equally or more racially segregated, high poverty areas.
“From the beginning the MTO has expressed grave concerns on behalf of Acre Road tenants, who are over 99% Black, about the usability of Section 8 vouchers in Jefferson Parish,” said Darin Collins, president of the MTO. “Our members have faced discrimination and inflated rents in the private market that have made it nearly impossible to use their vouchers in high opportunity areas. We seek to protect the most vulnerable people in our community who are now threatened with imminent displacement due to HUD’s actions.”
“The conversion of Acre Road is stripping residents of their homes, perpetuating a pattern of residential racial segregation and leaving individuals scrambling to find comparable residences,” said Thomas Silverstein, associate director of the fair housing & community development project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Amid an already tumultuous housing shortage, the conversion has added unmerited economic and social stress. Displacement without a sound and comprehensive relocation plan suggests an undeniable violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
“The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a responsibility to improve the nation’s communities by providing safe and affordable housing to all Americans,” said Jehan Patterson, litigation counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. “HUD also is obligated to follow the law before it issues rules and makes decisions that significantly affect the rights of tenants residing in public housing. Demolishing the Acre Road public housing project is the consequence of an unlawful HUD rule that will result in displacement of residents into areas of higher segregation and higher concentrations of poverty.We are committed to protecting our clients’ rights and holding HUD accountable when it fails to comply with the law.”
“The Streamlined Voluntary Conversion process outlined in the 2019 HUD notice is inherently discriminatory, because handing public housing tenants Section 8 vouchers and throwing them into the private rental market absent any market analysis about the usability of those vouchers inevitably leads to discriminatory outcomes,” said Hannah Adams, staff attorney at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. “Jefferson Parish, like much of the country, remains racially segregated, and the data shows that patterns of residential segregation dictate opportunities and life outcomes. Any public housing conversion that does not consider this history and reality will not benefit public housing tenants or our communities at large.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org