The Department of Housing and Urban Development is asking a federal judge to deny a request by tenants of a Marrero public housing project to block the department’s decision to shut down the development and shift displaced residents to the Section 8 housing assistance program.

Blocking the plan to close the Acre Road project on Jefferson Parish’s unincorporated West Bank would force the project’s remaining residents to continue living in substandard conditions at a complex plagued with mold and crime and situated next to a sewage plant, according to court documents by HUD lawyers filed last week in the Washington D.C. federal court.

But attorneys representing current and former tenants of the Acre Road project have argued that HUD’s decision to shutter the development will force Acre Road’s predominantly Black tenants to seek housing in impoverished, racially segregated neighborhoods, effectively violating the federal Fair Housing Act

Residents of the admittedly deteriorating complex, one of few permanently affordable housing sites in the parish, are being cast into an unfavorable housing market that will force many to move further from their workplaces, their children’s schools and their families, tenant advocates have argued.

The tenants’ suit, filed last month, also challenges the legality of the process used by the parish’s housing authority to close the site. That process, called a “streamlined voluntary conversion,” allows small housing authorities to more easily shut down public housing sites in exchange for vouchers.

HUD says the process reduces the administrative burden and provides more reliable federal funding: “It also serves the public interest to allow the Department to act with the discretion provided by Congress to support local housing authorities’ determinations about how best to allocate limited taxpayer funds for public housing and what is best for their local communities,” the filing reads.

Thomas Silverstein, one of the attorneys representing the tenants with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, declined to comment Tuesday (June 6) on HUD’s response, citing the pending litigation.

The Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish has said that using federal housing dollars to restore and maintain the deteriorating development, built in the 1960s, would be a “wasted investment” compared to issuing Section 8 vouchers that subsidize rents in privately owned properties.

The conversion offers Acre Road families “coveted housing choice vouchers (usable anywhere in the country) and other financial aid” to “find and move to homes that not only meet their preferences but are decent, safe, and sanitary and otherwise comply with the requirements of the Housing Act,” attorneys for HUD wrote in the filing.

About 160 of the project’s 200 units are now empty as tenants have already begun to move out, leading to a growing number of safety and security issues, according to the federal housing agency. 

Though the plan approved by HUD allows the housing authority to issue eviction notices to remaining tenants, the agency maintains that no such notices have been issued and that residents will have a 90-day notice of any eviction proceedings.

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Michelle previously worked for The Associated Press in South Carolina and was an inaugural corps member with the Report for America initiative. She also covered statewide criminal justice issues for Mississippi...