Low-Income Residents Sue Housing Authority of New Orleans – 9/29/09
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 29, 2009
Contact: Jacob Horwitz – 5044529159
Low-Income Residents Sue Housing Authority of New Orleans
Residents Haul HANO To Court for “Corruption and Neglect,” Demand Meeting With HUD Secretary
September 29, 2009 – Low income residents sued the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) today in a major blow against HANO Commissioner Diane Johnson. Residents claimed the agency operates with “mis-management, corruption, and neglect,” and simultaneously demanded a meeting with Obama appointed HUD Secretary Shawn Donovan.
The lawsuit, brought by the organization STAND and its members, uses HANO’s violation of the Louisiana Public Records Law to expose the harm HANO has done to low-income and displaced residents who are locked out of affordable housing in New Orleans.
“The community has suffered serious harm, and wants to be made whole,” said Tamar McFarlane, lead organizer of STAND. “The mothers and children on the streets and the seniors without housing are tired of suffering the consequences of HANO’s mis-management, corruption, and neglect. Starting today, HANO will face consequences for the harm they have done.”
The petition for writ of mandamus, submitted by STAND and its members to the Civil District Court today, asserts that HANO’s shameful failures of public service “harm the most vulnerable residents of this community-low-income renters, low-wage workers, struggling families, seniors, and homeowners who want to rent to low-income families as a means of supporting the right to return.”
The court action comes after HANO’s long refusal to be monitored by, or accountable to, community members in need of affordable housing. The Louisiana Public Records Law requires that government agencies allow the public to examine public records, usually within five days of when the request was made. STAND requested basic information from HANO chief Diane Johnson on July 15, 2009 – information as basic as Johnson’s job description – in an attempt to monitor and participate in the process to open up Section 8 and affordable housing units in the city. Despite numerous attempts to obtain it, HANO never provided the information as required by law.
“We weren’t asking Diane Johnson for anything we couldn’t have,” said Talbert Haywood, plaintiff in the case. “Our questions for Diane Johnson were simple: what’s your job description? How many affordable units are available? What is the plan to introduce new affordable units?” Haywood and others followed up on requests, going as far as to protest, but they got no answers. Haywood is a resident of the lower Ninth Ward and is now homeless and in need of a Section 8 voucher to afford stable and decent housing. “HANO has no answers for the community, and as a result I’m going from shelter to shelter, and sleeping in the streets,” said Haywood.
Many speculate that HANO’s failure to respond to simple requests for documents is an indication that they have even more to hide. “They’re covering up,” said Ali Shabaz, a member of STAND.
“The information STAND asked for, any honest person in office would give it to us. It’s the responsibility of a public official to share public information when the public asks for it. The only reason not to give it to us is that they have something to hide–even more to hide than we thought.”
“There’s more Section 8 theft, sweetheart deals, Miami mansions and Mercedez Benzes than we are even aware off. Diane Johnson has been sitting on the tip of the iceberg – and she knows what’s underneath. The people of New Orleans have no faith in her or HANO,” said Shabaz.
Hundreds gathered in front of the courthouse to celebrate the legal action against HANO, even as the housing crisis continued to be excruciating for residents of New Orleans. “When HANO fails low-income residents, we all suffer,” said Merline Kimble, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Ms. Kimble, a community worker and homeowner in the Treme area, rents to low-income residents. She has not been able to have a steady income because of HANO’s refusal to reopen Section 8. Without steady income from low-income renters, she is on the verge of losing her house.
Residents gathered outside the courthouse and demanded a meeting with Obama-appointed HUD (Housing and Urban Development) secretary Shaun Donovan. “We were promised real investment by the Obama Administration,” said McFarlane. “In appointing Donovan, President Obama promised that he would invest in affordable housing, but residents of New Orleans have not seen that investment. Instead, low-income residents are still suffering from neglect and abandonment. Donovan must meet with us to demonstrate that he is committed to New Orleanians having a home.”
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