The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development threatened on Thursday to cut grants to Louisiana unless the state makes St. Bernard Parish comply with the Fair Housing Act, the latest turn in a long-running dispute with the predominantly white New Orleans suburb.
Mercedes M. Marquez, assistant secretary for community planning and development, wrote that the parish government has acted to keep out African-Americans by restricting rental housing in spite of numerous federal court rulings that it has violated the civil rights law, as well as repeated contempt orders.
“The State remains responsible to assure that St. Bernard Parish complies” with requirements for community development block grants, Marquez wrote Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater. “A determination that the State has failed to do so could result in a funding sanction against the State.” She did not give a dollar figure.
Making it hard to build apartments or rent houses violates civil rights laws because African-Americans in the New Orleans metro area are twice as likely as whites to rent and 85 percent more likely to live in multi-family buildings, wrote John Trasvina, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing, in a separate letter to Parish President Craig Taffaro.
Trasvina wrote that ordinances and administrative actions continue to violate the Fair Housing Act.
Trasvina’s letter to Taffaro said the parish can avoid sanctions by overturning, within 20 days, a 2007 ordinance that severely limits homeowners’ ability to rent and a zoning ordinance passed in January 2010 to forbid multifamily housing in much of the parish.
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