Jenner & Block

Jenner & Block Represents Public Housing Residents Displaced by Katrina

Jenner & Block is serving as lead counsel in a class action lawsuit against HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) on behalf of displaced public housing residents.  The clients have been out of their homes in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck in August, 2005.  Like the rest of the city, they fled their homes.  Unlike other evacuees though, the public housing residents have not been helped by government programs designed to support their return.  Rather, federal and local housing agencies have actively blocked the return of these poor, African American, longtime New Orleans residents to their homes.

The class action complaint alleges that, before Hurricane Katrina, over 5,000 families lived in New Orleans public housing.  While many neighborhoods were devastated by Katrina, public housing developments mostly came through the storm intact, with minimal or no damage.  Yet, rather than opening the public housing, or clean and repair any modest damage that existed, HANO and HUD elected to shutter the developments with locks and steel bars.  As a result, displaced residents still remain in Baton Rouge, Houston, Atlanta and numerous other cities, separated from their families, and often ostracized as unwelcome or undesirable additions to the community. 

The complaint alleges that one of the reasons for HANO and HUD’s actions is drawn from the public and private sector opportunities presented by post Katrina New Orleans.  Together with private interests, HANO and HUD have developed plans to demolish all 5,000 public housing units that existed before Hurricane Katrina and replace them with homes geared to more mixed income residents.  The plans call for only a limited number of units to be reserved for public housing tenants, and even then with restrictive eligibility criteria. 

The primary beneficiaries of this approach will be real estate and other developers, to the detriment of New Orleans working poor.  Furthermore, this planned demolition, at a time of unprecedented housing crisis in New Orleans, will inevitably change the city’s demographics, both by eliminating former pockets of poorer public housing residents and, in a prediction made by HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson:  “New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.”  The class action complaint contends that defendants’ actions violate the United States Fair Housing Act, Louisiana law, and other federal and state laws.

Jenner & Block Partners Ross S. Bricker and John F. Ward, Jr., Associates Adam H. Morse, Lara E. Fitzsimmons, Gabriel A. Crowson, Abby J. Clark, Anne C. Fitzpatrick, and paralegal, Shawn K. McGee are working on the matter.  Third-year law students, Nancy Jacobson, John Roberts and Sara Ruff, who worked extensively with the class during their summer clerkship at the firm have continued to provide assistance.  Co-counsel includes Advancement Project, a democracy and justice action group to promote a fair and just multi-racial democracy in America, William P. Quigley, and R. Judson Mitchell professors at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, and civil rights attorney Tracie L. Washington.