Justice Department Settles Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced Thursday, June 20, 2019 that St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the Parish violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to allow two small group homes for up to five children with disabilities to open in single-family neighborhoods.
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from applying their zoning laws in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “This settlement underscores the Civil Rights Division’s commitment to ensure that children with disabilities have access to housing in all communities.”
“Access to safe, sanitary, and secure housing is a fundamental civil right for all persons within the Eastern District of Louisiana, and this settlement agreement continues efforts to ensure compliance to The Fair Housing Act,” said U.S. Attorney Peter G. Strasser for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “I commend the cooperative efforts of St. Bernard Parish to reach a resolution that is in the best interests of our community.”
“Persons with disabilities have a right to have access to the type of housing that meets their needs,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Today’s settlement sends a strong message that HUD and the Justice Department are committed to ensuring that cities and municipalities fully adhere to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.”
The United States’ suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, in December 2018, alleged that St. Bernard Parish violated the Fair Housing Act when it denied requests for reasonable accommodations to its zoning ordinance to allow the two group homes to operate in single-family neighborhoods of the Parish. Shortly after learning that the homes were planning to open, the Parish amended its zoning code to prohibit group homes of any size in single-family neighborhoods. The two group home operators filed complaints with HUD, which in turn referred the complaints to the Department of Justice. The group home operators filed a lawsuit in 2016, which they have settled with the Parish.
Under the settlement, St. Bernard Parish will pay $975,000 in monetary damages and attorneys’ fees to the two group home operators, and a $60,000 civil penalty to the United States. The Parish amended its zoning ordinance to permit small group homes in single-family residential districts, amended its reasonable accommodation policy, and will take a number of actions to guard against further housing discrimination. These other actions include training officials and individuals involved in zoning and land use, designating a fair housing compliance officer, and reporting periodically to the Department of Justice during the term of the agreement.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-66-9777 or through its website at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt.