Ruston Housing Authority agrees to pay $175,000 and stop assigning vacancies based on race to settle Justice Department lawsuit
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that the Housing Authority of the city of Ruston, La., has agreed to pay $175,000 and adopt comprehensive new policies to settle a race discrimination lawsuit filed by the department. The settlement must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Robert G. James of the Western District of Louisiana.
The department’s lawsuit, filed in September 2013, alleged that the Ruston Housing Authority (RHA) had long segregated the 300 apartments in its five public housing developments by assigning vacancies to applicants based on their race, rather than on their place on the waiting list. Specifically, the department alleged that the RHA disproportionately assigned white applicants to its two developments that were located in the predominantly white neighborhoods of Ruston—Louise Homes and Maryland Plaza Homes. At the same time, the department alleged, RHA primarily assigned African-American applicants to the complexes located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods—Eastwood Homes, Greenwood Homes and Truman Homes. When it originally began developing housing in the 1950s and early 1960s, the RHA explicitly reserved Louise Homes and Maryland Plaza for “white” persons, while reserving Greenwood and Truman for what it termed “colored” persons.
Although the RHA no longer maintained this de jure system, the department alleged that it had continued to segregate its complexes in practice. During the litigation, the former Ruston Housing Authority project manager from 2003 to 2013 admitted in her sworn deposition testimony that on numerous occasions she skipped over earlier applying African-American applicants in order to fill vacancies at Louise Drive Homes with later applying white applicants. She also testified that on multiple occasions she did not offer eligible white applicants available apartments in the nearly all-black Eastwood Homes, Greenwood Homes and Truman Homes, but instead offered those units to later-applying African American applicants.
“People who seek public housing, like all other home seekers, have the right to access housing free from racial discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “It is particularly distressing that, almost 50 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, this public housing authority was still filling vacancies based on the color of an applicant’s skin, rather than based on when he or she had applied. We are pleased that the Ruston Housing Authority has agreed to dismantle this segregated system and compensate its victims.”
“We have zero tolerance for housing providers that discriminate against individuals based on race,” said U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley of the Western District of Louisiana. “Today’s settlement is an example of our continuing effort to end discrimination in such a vital need, housing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to addressing unlawful discriminatory practices and enforcing anti-discrimination laws that protect the rights of all people.”
“Assigning persons housing based on the color of their skin not only robs them of the basic dignity everyone seeking housing should be afforded, it violates the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office. “HUD is committed to working with the Justice Department to take action against housing providers whose policies and practices are discriminatory.”
Upon court approval, the settlement, which is in the form of a consent decree, will require the RHA to implement nondiscriminatory policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act and to ensure that RHA housing units are made available for rent based on an applicant’s position on its waiting list, irrespective of race. The decree also requires that if RHA builds or acquires additional units, they are to be located in areas that do not further racial segregation. In addition, RHA employees who are responsible for making housing decisions will receive training on the new nondiscriminatory policies and procedures, the consent decree and the Fair Housing Act.
In addition, the RHA will pay $175,000 to compensate 19 individuals who suffered damages as a result of the RHA passing them over for available housing units because of their race. Additionally, for those 19 victims of the RHA’s discriminatory actions identified in the consent order, the RHA will allow those who are current tenants to request a transfer to another complex on a priority basis. It will also permit those identified individuals who are prior applicants and former tenants to reapply and, upon approval of their applications, give them priority for a unit at a complex of their choice.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the division’s Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.