Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in St

Allison Lawrence Higgins
Tulane University School of Law,
Fair Housing Law and Litigation Class
St. Tammany Parish is situated on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and home to the
highest median income in the state of Louisiana, along with the highest median rental rates. A
whole slew of barriers to fair housing have created a practically unlivable parish for low- to
middle-income residents. The parish includes three metropolitan areas: Mandeville, Covington,
and Slidell. The area is vastly white, at a staggering eighty-four percent and an African American
population of only twelve percent
. The parish’s median family income is over $62,000, which is
more than a third higher than the state median income.
While the income level is far above the
state average, so are the housing prices. The median monthly rental note costs $1,005
, much
higher than the state average of $788.
Rental rates in the parish surged after Hurricane Katrina
when nearly 50,000 units were destroyed, thus limiting the housing stock and driving up
demand. In 2015, ten years after the storm, there were still only 29 affordable units for every 100
ELI (extremely low income) residents of the parish.
A worker earning $12.72 and hour (the
parish’s average wage) would need to work 57 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom
High rental prices and unit shortage are just the beginning of the lack of access to
housing choice in the parish. Instances of both private and government-sponsored NIMBYism, a
lack of public transportation and middle-skill jobs, along with a lack of property codes and
enforcement have lead St. Tammany parish down an ill-fated fair housing path.
U.S. Census Bureau (2016). White alone, percent, July 1, 2016, (V2016). Retrieved from
U.S. Census Bureau (2015). Median household income, (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015. Retrieved
Louisiana Housing Alliance, The State of Housing in Louisiana 10 (2015)
U.S. Census Bureau (2015)
Louisiana Housing Alliance, The State of Housing in Louisiana 11 (2015)
Louisiana Housing Alliance, A Place to Call Home: St. Tammany Parish
In April of 2018, St. Tammany Parish will submit its finalized Assessment of Fair
Housing, as mandated by the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing section of the Fair Housing
Act and by HUD. The New Orleans-based firm Asakura Robinson has been tasked with creating
the report. The firm has employed several research tactics to gain insight on the current status of
housing in the parish and what can be done to improve it. These included an online survey, town-
hall style meetings, tabling at a variety of community fairs, and holding a series of stakeholder
meetings. The public was heavily involved in providing input for the report. For example, at
community fairs, attendees were asked to write down a barrier to housing on a sticky-note and
place it on a map of the parish where this barrier existed. The input from the events were
compiled into a draft document and presented at a final stakeholder meeting in November.
Stakeholders that attending the meetings included representatives from St. Tammany Parish
Health and Human Services, the City of Slidell Planning and Zoning, Habitat for Humanity (East
St. Tammany and St. Tammany West), Northlake Homeless Coalition, Northshore Housing
Initiative, and Volunteers of America, among others. This paper examines some of the issues that
were discussed that the final stakeholder meeting as well as some of the proposed solutions and
whether the outcome of those solutions seem promising.
The Practice of NIMBYism:
While there were numerous other barriers to fair housing discussed for the Assessment of
Fair Housing, perhaps the biggest and most overarching barrier in St. Tammany Parish is the
concept of NIMBYism. The acronym NIMBY stands for “not in my back yard” and refers to
people and organizations not wanting low-income housing near their own homes and businesses.
The reasons are usually masked in things like drainage or traffic problems, which allow officials
to reject the project with ease
. There can be several different root causes for NIMBYism, but in
St. Tammany Parish there seems to be just one: racism. Several stakeholders spoke about the
problem at the final Assessment of Fair Housing meeting, claiming that while no one wants to
say it out loud, racism is definitely there. In fact, one representative from Asakura Robinson
reported that several people told her that the reason they moved to St. Tammany Parish was to
get away from “that,” referring to minorities. St. Tammany Parish has always been a
predominantly white community, and while the minority population is still under twenty percent,
that number is significantly larger than it was twenty years ago. Many people, not only in St.
Tammany Parish, but also around the country, associate affordable housing with run-down
buildings, violence and minority-only communities. However, the Louisiana Housing Alliance is
on a mission to prove that this is not the case. In an article about the “new faces” of affordable
housing, the organization gives examples of the many people who qualify for affordable housing
in Louisiana: “your child’s favorite teacher, the college graduate just starting her career, the first
responder who risks his life daily, the administrative assistant who keeps the company on the
right track, the receptionist who greets you, the state worker, the city employee, accountants,
supervisors, counselors, medical professionals, fire fighters, and the list goes on and on.
Education of both landlords and the community about the wide variety of people needing
affordable housing would be a simple way to at least start opening minds to the idea of more
affordable housing in the parish. The data is out there, it just needs to be dispersed.
Rev. 511, 566 (2007)
Tillman, Anita M., The “New” Faces of Affordable Housing, Louisiana Housing Alliance,
December 10, 2014. Retrieved from
There is also a concern that home values will decline if affordable housing is introduced
to a neighborhood. This argument has a lot of steam behind it all over the country, yet there is
little data that actually shows any decrease in home values near affordable housing projects. In
fact, many communities see an increase in home values.
For example, East St. Tammany
Habitat for Humanity has been building affordable homes in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of
Slidell for more than two decades. In 2010, the organization completed an economic impact
study to assess its impacts on the neighborhood. The study revealed that homes built by Habitat
for Humanity has tax assessment values 3.2 times higher than non-Habitat homes in the
neighborhood. In addition, the median household income of the neighborhood increased by
nearly $3,000 between 2000 and 2009, a time when a large number of Habitat for Humanity
homes were built in the neighborhood.
There has been so much community unrest on the topic of affordable housing that the
Northshore Housing Initiative lost a $1 million grant due to a moratorium put in place that
blocked the development of sixteen affordable homes
. Even though the new homes would have
an average market value of $170,000, residents of the subdivision resented the project. (Recent
sales of privately-built homes in the neighborhood ranged from $165,000 to $220,000
.) A
petition of nearly 700 signatures was produced by the residents with complaints that the
additional homes would cause drainage and sewerage issues. As a result, a six-month
moratorium was placed, and the deadline for using the grant passed during the moratorium. The
Colum. Human Rights L. Rev. 98
Halloway, Jamal, and Joubert. Estimated Economic Impacts of the Activities of: East St.
Tammany Habitat for Humanity, Southeastern University Business Research Center, July 2010.
Pagnoes, Sara. ‘Not in my backyard’: Neighborhood opposition kills plans for workforce
housing in St. Tammany subdivision, The New Orleans Advocate, August 21, 2016.
Data retrieved from
organization did not seek to reapply for the grant, fearing that the same thing would happen
As a result of this practice, what little affordable housing exists in the parish is almost
exclusively located in low-opportunity areas. East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity has built
over 125 affordable houses in the areas of Slidell, Lacombe and Alton. Most of the land the
organization builds on is donated by the city or by private donors. However, much of the land is
either unusable because of wetland protection, or in low-opportunity areas
. The graphic below
shows the ratings of public schools in Slidell along with the areas where Habitat for Humanity
has built homes
. Almost every home built by the organization is zoned for a C-rated school.
Childcare services are another scarce resource in low-income areas. In addition, these
neighborhoods are farther away from health services, financial services and other basic needs.
Interview with Kentrell Jones, Assistant Executive Director, East St. Tammany Habitat for
Humanity in Slidell, LA (October 26, 2017).
Halloway, Jamal, and Joubert. Estimated Economic Impacts of the Activities of: East St.
Tammany Habitat for Humanity, Southeastern University Business Research Center, July 2010.
Dreilinger, Damielle. All St. Tammany Parish Schools are Graded A, B or C, The Times-
Picayune, December 17, 2015.
While one may think that this is a zoning issue, it is not. Habitat builds single-family homes
which are allowed practically freely in the parish. The issue, however, is that there is no land
donated in high opportunity areas and the land is simply too expensive for Habitat to purchase.
Solutions to NIMBY have been discussed at length across the country. Education,
inclusionary zoning and redrawing school districts are all ideas that have been mentioned. While
these ideas will likely work, it seems that the toughest part in St. Tammany Parish will be getting
the officials in charge of these changes to actually make the changes. For Habitat, donations of
land in better areas would be a great solution, but a highly unlikely one unless the city steps in to
donate land that has perhaps been foreclosed on. Tax breaks and other incentive programs would
also possibly be a way to lure developers to create more affordable housing in high opportunity
areas. Education, as always, would be another useful tool to combat NIMBYism. Participating in
the “Fair Housing University” program offered by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action
Center (GNOFHAC) could be a way to fight this problem. The program provides customizable
fair housing training to landlords, real estate professionals, and other service providers.
the public more involved in housing decisions could also prove useful though it seems to be
challenge. In July of this year, the parish held a public comment meeting for the proposed
distribution of CDBG funds. The list of attendees published to the parish website boasts a
whopping four people, all from the Department of Health and Human Services. While the
meeting was required to be publicized, it was merely published in the classified section of the St.
Tammany Farmer. Requiring the public meetings to be more widely publicized would allow for
more public participation, which could in turn result in more public housing education.
Fair Housing University, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. Retrieved from (Last accessed November 26, 2017).
Flood Zone Classification of Land:
Flood zone classification is not a common barrier to fair housing but plays a critical role
in the housing market in St. Tammany Parish. This barrier is the biggest physical barrier to
affordable housing in the parish because it literally eliminates a majority of land in the parish
from even being available for development. In addition to physically barring the development of
affordable housing in extremely flood prone areas, the rising costs of flood insurance only add
the already high housing costs in the parish. The average flood insurance policy in Louisiana
costs $880 per year, though the numbers for most St. Tammany residents are higher because of
their classification as a high-risk area.
Premiums for a $100,000 home often exceed $100 per
month. Almost 80% of land in Slidell city limits are in flood zones A or B, the two highest risk
categories, according to the head of the city’s planning and zoning department.
Practically all
of the undeveloped land in the city unfortunately falls into that category, leaving few options for
developing affordable housing. In order to battle this problem, East St. Tammany builds all of
their houses off the ground, at least three feet but sometimes up to eight feet. This leads to a cost
increase of sometimes $20,000 per home, although it does lower the flood insurance prices for
the homeowners.
Using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in flood zones is
extremely difficult, according to almost every stakeholder at the Assessment of Fair Housing
meeting. On the east side of the parish, where there are more flood-zoned houses, the lack of
CDBG funds are a critical blow. East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity homeowners use
Flood Insurance Rate Changes for 2017 (In Layman’s Terms), COASTAL Insurance. Retrieved
terms/ (Last accessed November 28, 2017).
Tara Ingram-Hunter, Director of Planning and Zoning, City of Slidell, St. Tammany and Slidell
Stakeholder Meeting (November 9, 2017).
Interview with Kentrell Jones, Assistant Executive Director, East St. Tammany Habitat for
Humanity in Slidell, LA (October 26, 2017).
CDBG funds to help with their down payments, but they are not always available to everyone.
Last year, a single mother of five was unable to receive the CDBG funds because her Habitat
home was located in a flood zone, even though it was raised eight feet off the ground, while a
single person was able to receive the full amount of CDBG funds because his home was not in a
high-risk flood zone
. The single mother did not qualify for any other down payment assistance
and thus had to pay out of pocket for a down payment much larger than that of the single person
(due to her home being larger to accommodate her family).
In addition to flood zone classification, much of the land is classified as wetlands.
Wetland mitigation can cost an additional $20,000-$60,000 per acre in Louisiana
which makes
it impossible for the non-profits that are trying to build affordable housing and highly
unattractive to for-profit developers. As a result, the land is usually donated to organizations like
Habitat for Humanity, where it serves as a nice tax break for the donor but is functionally useless
to the organization. There are few solutions available to this problem at the local level, so a focus
on maintaining the existing affordable housing stock is crucial.
Lack of Public Transportation:
Usually when an area has a lack of transportation, the problem is that there are not
enough bus stops, or that the routes do not run long enough hours. However, in St. Tammany
Parish a lack of transportation means a literal lack of a continuous, fixed-route transportation
system. The only public transportation system in the parish is the STAR service that operates
five day a week on a call-in basis and costs $160 per month for round-trip transportation to New
Interview with Kentrell Jones, Assistant Executive Director, East St. Tammany Habitat for
Humanity in Slidell, LA (October 26, 2017).
Mitigation Banking, Natural Resource Professionals, LLC, (Last visited Nov. 26, 2017)
. Community members have long opposed opting into the New Orleans-based Regional
Transit Authority (RTA) program to provide continuous. fixed-route transportation between St.
Tammany Parish residents and jobs in New Orleans. Even the strongest proponents of affordable
housing present at the Assessment of Fair Housing meeting had little hope that the RTA program
would ever be allowed in St. Tammany Parish. While there are a handful of private
transportation services, they are extremely pricey. The monthly rate for the Pelican Bus service
runs at $260 and the service only offers one round-trip bus per day
. The popular ridesharing
app Uber also began operating in the parish in the summer of 2015
, but ride availability still
remains scarce and pricey more than two years later, as drivers stand to make more money by
providing their services in New Orleans. In addition, private services like Uber often lack
transportation options for disabled individuals. Nearly 14% of parish residents report some kind
of disability
, and 40% of disabled residents live below 150% of the poverty line
, showing the
need for affordable public transportation. While Uber does offer a program called Uber Assist in
the New Orleans area that provides drivers that help pack wheelchairs and other medical
supplies, this program does not stretch into St. Tammany Parish and does not provide vehicles
with ramps or other accessible-entry vehicles
. Uber is growing the availability of its
STAR Transit (St. Tammany Area Transportation), St. Tammany Parish Government,, (Last accessed November 26, 2017)
Commuter, Pelican Bus, (Last accessed November 26,
Nobles, William P. III, Here’s where ride-hailing laws stand 2 years after Uber’s New Orleans
debut, The Times-Picayune, April 27, 2017. Retrieved from
LSU Public Administration Institute, Housing Needs Assessment for Louisiana Housing
Corporation 13 (June 30, 2014).
Louisiana Housing Alliance, Meeting the Needs of Special Populations: Fact Sheet 2 (2014).
Evans, Beau. Uber slapped with ADA lawsuit from wheelchair-using New Orleanians, The
Times-Picayune, October 26, 2017. Retreived from
wheelchair-accessible-vehicle program (UberWAV), but it will likely be years, if ever, that
services reaches the Northshore.
Because of the lack of public transportation options, residents are forced to spend
significant amounts of money on transportation every month on top of the already high housing
costs. The average family is St. Tammany Parish spends 63% of their monthly income on
housing and transportation alone. This leaves little room for other costs like childcare,
healthcare, and groceries. On a scale of 1-10, the Center for Neighborhood Technology gave St.
Tammany Parish an AllTransit Performance Score of 0.1
. The lack of transportation only
perpetuates the lack of access to essential services. Only a few public schools offer after-school
care programs and many end before parents return from their job in New Orleans. There are very
few community health clinics in the parish, so not every low-income area has access to sufficient
health services. Not only are residents having to commute long distances for their jobs but also
for basic health and living services. The cycle is viscous and the end does not seem to be in the
near future. While there are a handful of strong-willed proponents in the parish fighting for better
transportation, there are even more people fighting against it, all in the name of maintaining the
racial status-quo of the parish.
One possible solution that did garner a decent amount of support, however, was opting
into to creating a program similar to the GeauxRideNOLA ride sharing program recently
reactivated in New Orleans. The program uses the internet to connect riders commuting to and
from the same locations. The idea would be coupled with the already existing park-and-ride lots
H+T Fact Sheet: County: St. Tammany, LA, Center for Neighborhood Technology, (Last accessed November 26, 2017)
in the parish. Another idea discussed briefly was to locate more businesses along the Tammany
Trace, though this would not solve the issue for commuters. Another solution offered as was to
co-locate services so that residents only have to make one trip to receive housing help, career
training, health services, etc. There is already a project called Safe Haven underway in
Mandeville that will likely serve as the hub for this proposed solution. While Safe Haven’s main
focus is on behavioral health services, the center plans to include other services like career help
and other social services
. Other additional programs that could be co-located at Safe Haven
include housing resources, disability services, family planning education, and a medical clinic.
Funding, however, is the biggest issue with co-location. It takes money to either move services
from where they are currently located or to create new services altogether. The only legal
remedies that I can foresee helping the situation would only address ADA compliance of public
and transit options (like the lawsuit currently taking place in New Orleans
), because
unfortunately the Fair Housing Act does not address transportation.
Lack of Enforcement:
Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and other regulations are practically non-existent in
the parish. The only property maintenance code in the parish is one used by the City of Slidell
and only applies to those properties within the city limits. This leaves the rest of the parish
without any form of organized way to combat subpar housing complaints. Many residents have
no idea who to contact to file a complaint, so they simply do not file one at all. Even the few who
do make the call, are told that there is only so much the parish government can do. Providing
Kurt Salmon, Safe Haven Implementation Strategy (July 2016).
Evans, Beau. Uber slapped with ADA lawsuit from wheelchair-using New Orleanians, The
Times-Picayune, October 26, 2017. Retreived from
training and resources to residents about how to file a housing discrimination complaint and what
types of actions are prohibited would be a good way to begin addressing the problem. Again, the
Fair Housing University program could be used in this instance.
The city of Slidell employs two enforcement agents to ensure that housing in the city is
compliant with the property maintenance code. The code gives landlords a certain period of time
to fix problems before the building is brought to a council for a decision on demolition. In 2016,
Slidell demolished an entire apartment complex after a resident reported on-going problems such
as collapsed roofs, black mold, and water leaks. While the city claimed this as a victory, many
residents were left without any housing and claimed that city officials offered little help
Enforcement of safe housing is a double-edged sword that causes many renters to avoid filing
complaints, fearing that they will be forced move from subpar housing to being homeless.
Solutions to the enforcement problem seem simple on paper: create a property
maintenance code and enforce it. The issue, however, comes from a lack of funding to pay the
enforcement officials, and the parish government does not seem too concerned about finding the
money any time soon. According to the Assessment of Fair Housing documents, the parish
expects to adopt a property maintenance code sometime within the next decade. An employee of
the city of Slidell, however, says that their city council is adamant about enforcing their code
which at least gives some hope to the tenants of the parish. Until the code is adopted, other
solutions include training city and parish workers on how to take complaints and how to direct
residents to other organizations like HUD and GNOFHAC.
Warren, Bob. After Slidell apartments declared unsafe, displaced residents’ frustrations boil,
The Times-Picayune, March 16, 2015.
Tara Ingram-Hunter, Director of Planning and Zoning, City of Slidell, St. Tammany and Slidell
Stakeholder Meeting (November 9, 2017).
Issues with ADA Units:
Although the Fair Housing Act sets out guidelines for units for disabled persons
, many
people claim that the Act does not go far enough. Jennifer Dexter, the executive director of the
Northshore Housing Initiative explained how many units that are legally compliant lack things
like roll-under sinks, lowered countertops and roll-in showers
. A big part of this issue is the
fact that more than two-thirds of units in the area were built prior to 1980
, and the accessibility
requirements of the Fair Housing Act only apply to units available for first occupancy after
March 13, 1991.
Several other attendees of the Assessment of Fair Housing stakeholder
meeting expressed concerns about how difficult it is to find handicap assessable units. There is
no master list of units, so each person must call all possible units individually to find out if they
will meet their needs. Additionally, there have been many tenants that have complained that
elevators are habitually out of order, stranding them at ground level or inside of their home.
Ground-floor apartments are reportedly impossible to get into, as turnover in them is extremely
low. Disabled residents are forced to either live without accommodations or with friends or
family that can help them.
As far as accessible public housing, the situation is even worse. Every stakeholder spoke
of problems even getting in touch with both the Slidell Housing Authority and the Covington
Housing Authority. The voucher program in Covington has not opened its waiting list since
U.S.C 42 § 3604 (f)(3)(C)
Jennifer Dexter, Executive Director, Northshore Housing Initiative, St. Tammany and Slidell
Stakeholder Meeting (November 9, 2017).
LSU Public Administration Institute, Housing Needs Assessment for Louisiana Housing
Corporation 26 (June 30, 2014).
U.S.C 42 § 3604 (f)(3)(C)
2005. Even city and parish officials stated that they had significant problems contacting the
housing authorities.
The solutions offered to accessibility issues were widely accepted by both non-profits and
government officials. The creation of an organized list of what some referred to as “truly ADA
accessible” units was put on the short-term action list. An organization called Louisiana 2-1-1
was proposed as a provider for the list. Louisiana 2-1-1 is a call center that connects callers with
“critical health and human services” available in their area
. Several of the non-profits reported
working with the organization before and encouraged others to add their data for a more
cohesive list of services. Another solution given by the Louisiana Housing Alliance is to increase
the funding for the Louisiana Housing Fund Trust which helps to provide affordable housing to
those with special needs.
The status of housing in St. Tammany Parish is definitely subpar. The plethora of barriers
to fair housing are seemingly endless and the community opposition is discouraging. However,
the Assessment of Fair Housing project will be instrumental in changing this. There is a
significant lack of funding for housing projects, even though the Louisiana Housing Corporation
reports that an average of $20 million is administered each year to the parish for housing
Even though the Assessment of Fair Housing is still in the draft phase, the process
itself has opened a forum for non-profits, community members and government officials to
confront the affordable housing crisis in the area. Before this process, there were minimal events
About Louisiana 2-1-1, Louisiana 2-1-1, Last
accessed November 26, 2017.
Louisiana Housing Alliance, Meeting the Needs of Special Populations: Fact Sheet 2 (2014).
Louisiana Housing Alliance, A Place to Call Home: St. Tammany Parish
in which even a few of these players were in the same room at the same time, and none to the
extent of this project. The amount of surprise in the room at the final stakeholder meeting
showed that even the most crucial players in the housing field did not truly understand how bad
the situation is. So many of the stakeholders proposed education as a solution to the problems
and the education started right there in that room. Will all of the solutions that make it into the
final draft of the Assessment of Fair Housing come to fruition? Probably not, but it is at least a
step in the right direction, and anything being done in the future is strides more than what is
currently being done. We can only hope that the conversations from the meeting create a domino
effect that drives action in the parish.
Author’s Note:
This project really opened my eyes to huge problems in my own community. The amount of
times I had to practically pick my jaw up off the floor was unbelievable. Education as a solution
seems like such a redundant goal to many people, but I truly feel that this is the best way to begin
to combat these issues. Data is a huge asset to any fight and having real, local numbers gives the
argument teeth. There are people in St. Tammany Parish with a strong passion for furthering fair
housing and I saw it in the eyes of the representatives from various organizations as I spoke with
them. But these organizations need funding and support in a variety of forms. Everyone can play
a role in the fight for fair housing whether it is in advocacy, legislation, research, construction,
etc. Start conversations. Attend local meetings. Volunteer with housing organizations, or even
just listen to the stories of those that have been affected. It all starts somewhere. I hope that this
report opens the eyes of anyone who reads it and that it encourages others to join the fight for
fair housing not only in St. Tammany Parish, but around the nation.

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