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Justice Dept. Files Lawsuit Against Ruston Public Housing Authority, Attorney Speaks Out

The Department of Justice files a lawsuit against Ruston housing authority over racial discrimination against African Americans. But the housing agency's attorney is denying those allegations.
RUSTON -- The Department of Justice announced this week that it has filed a lawsuit against the Ruston Housing Authority over racial discrimination against African Americans.

But the housing agency's attorney is denying those allegations.

The lawsuit says the RHA maintained "racially segregated housing by steering and assigning its five complexes based on race, rather than order of their placement on the waiting list."

The Ruston Housing Authority is a public housing authority that provides housing for persons of low income in Ruston.  Currently, the Ruston Housing Authority owns and maintains five housing complexes in Ruston.

The lawsuit also states that "since at least 2007, nearly all tenants at the RHA were living in racially segregated complexes," a violation of the Federal Housing Act.

The RHA's attorney, Rob Shadoin, tells KTVE/KARD that's not true.

"Sometimes the Department of Justice has us scratching our heads trying to figure out on what they're basing very vague allegations," he said.
 
The lawsuit alleges the RHA steered tenants to particular complexes based on race.

Shadoin says applicants make requests on which complex they want to live in -- and the housing authority tries to honor it.

"We don't even know why we got on their radar, because no ones ever told us that anybody has ever filed an official gripe, complaint, protest, anything. They just showed up," said Shadoin, who has been the attorney for the RHA since 1996.

Shadoin said in January 2013, the DOJ requested records from the RHA for an investigation, which were handed over. In May, they were notified of the discrimination lawsuit.

Shadoin says he's tried reaching out to the department of justice many times for clarifications on the allegations.

"Never did specify. And we asked them, could you give us the instances? That information was never provided to us," he said.

Shadoin said the department offered a consent order to see how to resolve the dispute.

He agreed but said it took them four months to get the order to him, and once they did he was told he had 12 days to look it over before issuing a response. After looking it over, he said it seemed they were most concerned about setting up an grievance account of $450,000.

"And to use their words, 'for potential aggrieved persons.' Unidentified, unspecified people," he said. "I can't, in good conscience, advise a client to enter into an agreement where we don't believe the allegations are true."

He says he found something similar happened to the Winder Public Housing Authority in Winder, GA in 2008 -- according to a local newspaper, The Barrow Journal, that housing authority decided to settle the lawsuit due to the high cost of litigation.

We were unable to speak with any tenants nor the staff due to the pending lawsuit -- but Shadoin says they've looked over their records from the past 20 years.

"We cannot find one single solitary incident of any sort of discriminatory practices or complaints," he said. 

Stephanie Finley, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, issued this statement through the DOJ on Monday saying, "The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to addressing unlawful discriminatory practices and enforcing anti-discrimination laws. [The] filing is an example of our continuing efforts to end discrimination."

“Access to housing free from racial discrimination is everyone’s right, including those who seek public housing assistance,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the same release on Monday.  “The department will continue its vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.” 

Finley was unavailable today for additional comment, and we also received a voice mail that her legal assistant is on furlough because of the government shutdown.

Shadoin said he's received a similar voice mail from the department of justice while trying to work on the case.

"The deck is stacked against us right now, but we're going to fight this," he said. "Of course, you're up against the Goliath of the United States government, and we're little David down here trying to collect stones to find out how we can defend ourselves."

From the Department of Justice: The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.   Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.


 
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