How Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Successfully Disputed the Eviction of 53 Elderly and Disabled Tenants
Right around Christmas in 2016, Michael—a 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran who suffers from PTSD—received a notice that the lease for his affordable apartment in New Orleans was being terminated. He had lived there for seven years and paid his rent on time, with the help of a housing voucher for $789 a month. Being a model tenant, he couldn’t understand why his lease wasn’t being renewed.
But it wasn’t just him: 52 other low-income tenants, including several veterans, elderly residents, and people living with disabilities, got the same notice of lease termination as he did, while the market-rate tenants did not.
Michael then contacted Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) to find out what his rights were in regards to his eviction.
After hearing Michael’s story and checking out the case, SLLS dove in. It reviewed the facts of his case and investigated the property records regarding what kind of subsidy was involved at the apartment building. (Hannah Adams, the lead attorney for SLLS on the case, received the 2017 Louisiana State Bar Association Excellence in Advocacy Award for her work primarily on the case.)
The owner claimed that the affordability period used to redevelop the building—a former canning factory—into mixed-income housing after Hurricane Katrina, was almost at its end. The neighborhood around the building had gentrified over the years, and all the low-income tenants were being kicked out so the owner could double the rents from $700 for low- to moderate-income tenant apartments to $1,300 for the same apartment.
SLLS determined that there were potential Fair Housing Act violations since all of the tenants being kicked out were elderly and/or disabled, as well as possible violations for not notifying tenants of the expiration of an affordability period. Michael shared this information with his neighbors. Soon after that, 7 of the 53 tenants contacted SLLS for representation and were found to be eligible for services.
After SLLS made its arguments about possible legal violations, the owner agreed to provide all 53 tenants—not just those represented by SLLS—with an additional nine months to move out, in addition to providing excellent letters of recommendation, covering moving expenses, and paying each tenant $1,500. A counselor was also brought on site to help them find new housing.
With this crucial extension of time and resources, and with the help of the housing counselor, all of the 53 tenants were able to find other housing.
One of the tenants SLLS helped was a 95-year-old senior who they realized was a former public housing resident relocated from another complex. SLLS helped her assert her legal right to return back to the community she knew and loved, and she has grown fond of her new home in her old neighborhood.
On a larger scale, the case also raised community awareness about a looming housing crisis, the expiration of affordability restrictions on housing developed after Hurricane Katrina. With these set to end, the City of New Orleans estimates that within the next 15 years, close to 5,000 affordable units will expire.
SLLS is now working with other community partners to create a database of properties developed post-Katrina with significant federal housing resources, the expiration dates of subsidies, and to craft possible legal and advocacy solutions to this approaching crisis.
Without SLLS’s help, Michael and the 52 other tenants would’ve been completely blindsided, exposed to the perils of an uncertain housing situation. But now they have a place to call home, living without the threat of eviction.