Federal Agencies Sued for Violations of the Fair Housing Act Against New Orleans Public Housing Residents

For Immediate Release

Contact: Sabrina Williams 202/728-9557 or 305/904-3960

Federal Agencies Sued for Violations of the Fair Housing Act Against New Orleans Public Housing Residents

(New Orleans, Louisiana June 27, 2006)— Today, a lawsuit was filed by Advancement Project, Bill Quigley, Tracie Washington and the law firm of Jenner & Block, LLP against U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Alphonso Jackson and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) on behalf of public housing residents in United States District Court in New Orleans. The lawsuit seeks to bring families back to New Orleans as soon as possible.

“HUD plans to keep low-income Black families out of New Orleans,” said Judith Browne, co-director, Advancement Project, a national civil rights and racial justice organization. “These families have a right to return and a right to be consulted about the future of public housing. HUD and HANO’s plan discriminates against Black residents by excluding them with no clear plan of when, how and if they will be able to return.”

Most of New Orleans displaced residents cannot return because of a shortage of housing due to a loss of approximately half of all rental housing and an increase in demand; since the storm, rental rates have increased 25-30% in New Orleans. Despite this massive shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, HANO has taken virtually no steps to repair housing units that could bring back many of the 5,146 displaced, predominantly African-American families that resided in public housing pre-Katrina. Instead of moving quickly to re-open habitable units and make repairs where necessary, HANO has boarded up units. Only 880 families have been permitted to return to public housing. Most recently, HUD made clear that most families would not be able to return anytime soon when it announced its plan to demolish 5,000 public housing units.

“By failing to reopen housing units that were undamaged by Hurricane Katrina, failing to repair other units, and declaring that most of the existing public housing stock in New Orleans will be destroyed, HANO and HUD are shirking their obligation to provide safe, affordable housing for low-income families and access to housing free from discrimination,” said Bill Quigley, counsel in the lawsuit and law professor at Loyola University

Public statements made by federal and other Louisiana officials in reference to low-income African-American public housing residents reveals that their failure to promptly repair and reopen public housing units is motivated by discriminatory intent:

  • Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of HUD stated on Sept. 29, 2005 that post-Katrina New Orleans “is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.” On April 24, 2006 Jackson said that “Only the best residents should return. Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked;”
  • New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas stated on Feb. 20, 2006 at a city council meeting that, “We don’t need soap opera watchers all day,” and that if displaced residents want to come back and want to live in public housing, they better want to work; and
  • Likewise, Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA) said, after the hurricane, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

“The ‘reconstruction’ of New Orleans has become a euphemism for the destruction of the city’s cultural, historic, and ethnic heritage,” said Tracie Washington, counsel in the lawsuit. “If we are serious about the slogan ‘Bring Back New Orleans,’ HUD and HANO must re-open public housing and make repairs, where necessary. We’ve got to bring back all of the people – not just those who are rich and white.”

For more than ten years, HANO and HUD have squeezed Black families out of New Orleans by downsizing public housing. In 1996, there were more than 13,000 public housing units. Pre-Katrina there were 7,100 units but almost 2,000 were vacant, waiting to be demolished. There were 5,146 families living in public housing. Today, only about 880 families have returned. Now, HUD plans to demolish 5,000 units with no clear plan for bringing back these Black families.

“The reality is that those who've been planning the new New Orleans never wanted poor Black people to return to the city in the first place,” concluded Browne. “These families are not disposable; HUD should not be permitted to keep them scattered and away from their communities solely because they are low-income African-Americans. These residents should be allowed to participate at the forefront in the rebuilding and economic redevelopment of New Orleans. The city’s unique history and cultural heritage should inspire new solutions that maintain the identity of the city, not policies that only advance the interests of the rich and affluent.”


Advancement Project's core purpose is to develop, encourage, pioneer and widely disseminate innovative ideas and models that inspire and mobilize a broad national racial justice movement so that universal opportunity and a just democracy are achieved.

The organization was founded on the principle that structural racism can be eliminated and a racially just democracy may be attained through multi-racial collective action by organized communities. Advancement Project's founding team of veteran civil rights lawyers and communications experts have established an organization that informs community organizing with careful legal analysis and strategic communications campaigns. We develop community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.