Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that a parish (what most of the rest of the country refers to as a county) in Louisiana agreed to a settlement valued at more than $2.5 million to conclude lawsuits filed by the United States and various private plaintiffs alleging that the parish sought to restrict rental housing to African Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the parish must pay $275,000 to eight individuals identified by the United States and pay $15,000 to the United States as a civil penalty.  The settlement terms also require that the parish create a new Office of Fair Housing, hire a fair housing coordinator, as well as spend $25,000 each year on an advertising campaign to attract renters and developers of multi-family rental housing to the area.  Local officials must also undergo fair-housing training and provide periodic reports to the United States.  As a part of a settlement in a related case, the parish agreed to pay $1.65 million in compensation, costs and attorneys’ fees to two sets of private plaintiffs.

The United States’ lawsuit followed an investigation by HUD which was focused on if the parish adopted zoning ordinances that denied or otherwise restricted housing to persons based on their race.   Specifically, the federal case alleged that the parish: adopted a  law that prevented homeowners from renting single-family homes in residential zones without first obtaining a permit; revised its zoning code to reduce dramatically the amount of land available for multi-family apartments; and interfered with important housing rights.  The DOJ contended these actions were done to unlawfully limit or deny rental housing to African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  Following HUD’s inquiry, many of these local ordinances were rescinded.

These cases reflect yet another cautionary tale that federal officials and private fair housing entities continue to be on the lookout for actions perceived to be discriminatory and which might violate the FHA.

Just A Thought.