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DOJ sues Ruston, La. public housing

Chevel Johnson, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The federal government filed a lawsuit against the Housing Authority for the City of Ruston, alleging it has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against black tenants.

"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 Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "The department will continue its vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act."

The civil complaint, filed Monday in federal court in Monroe, alleges the housing authority maintained a "racially segregated housing authority by steering and assigning applicants to its five complexes based on race, rather than in order of their placement on the Ruston Housing Authority's waiting list."

The RHA owns and maintains five housing complexes in Ruston, providing housing for people with low incomes. Telephone messages left Monday evening at the district office of state Rep. Robert E. Shadoin, an attorney representing the agency, and his law office, were not immediately returned.

The lawsuit contends the Ruston Housing Authority has engaged in the pattern or practice of race discrimination from at least 2007 to the present.

"From at least 2007 through at least 2011, nearly all tenants at RHA were living in racially identifiable complexes," the suit states. "Approximately 91 percent to 95 percent of all white tenants living at RHA, depending on the year, lived in the Louise Homes and Maryland Plaza Homes. Similarly, approximately 87 percent to 89 percent of all black tenants living at the RHA, depending on the year, lived in the Eastwood, Greenwood and Truman homes.

"The degree of racial imbalance at all five complexes is statistically significant and cannot be explained by non-racial factors such as bedroom size or whether a tenant is elderly or disabled."

The DOJ contends the alleged racial segregation is a "direct result of RHA's current policy and practice of steering applicants and tenants to particular complexes based on race and of RHA's failure to apply consistently is Admission and Continued Placement Policy."

"RHA's conduct has reinforced or perpetuated a racially segregated public housing system and has exacerbated racial segregation in the census blocks in which public housing is located in the City of Ruston."

The complaint also alleges that the RHA's discriminatory assignment practices have harmed dozens of applicants and tenants who were assigned to segregated housing or delayed housing because of their race.