A group of Marrero tenants seeking to block the closure of their public housing development saw a setback Thursday (July 27) after a judge denied their request to pause the closure plan pending the final outcome of a federal lawsuit they filed earlier this year. 

Current and former tenants of Acre Road, the 200-unit public housing complex on Jefferson Parish’s West Bank, sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this year after HUD approved a plan by the local housing authority to demolish the development and move tenants into the Section 8 housing assistance program.

In the Thursday order, federal Judge Dabney Friedrich, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction on the plan.

Attorneys for the tenants have said that the Acre Road’s remaining tenants could become homeless if they are unable to find new places to live with Section 8 vouchers the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish has provided them.

The plan approved by HUD allows the authority to issue eviction notices, but they must give tenants 90 days to move. But according to a recent court filing, the housing authority says it is still helping Acre Road families relocate and has no deadline by which it must issue eviction notices to the remaining households. 

Friedrich’s order allows the plaintiffs to again seek a temporary pause of the plan as the suit is ongoing should the housing authority begin to issue those notices or take other actions against tenants, according to Sophia Jayanty with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups representing the tenants.

“At least our clients know that the housing authority has made a promise under oath to the court that it does not intend to evict people through the formal procedures,” Jayanty said. “And that is some type of reprieve from that Damocles’ sword of not knowing and searching [for housing] under those conditions of anxiety.”

Representatives for HUD and for the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.

Attorneys for the tenants have argued the decision would force Acre Road’s predominantly Black residents into impoverished, racially segregated neighborhoods, essentially violating the federal Fair Housing Act. They’re also challenging the legality of the streamlined process used by the parish’s housing authority to close the site.

The suit questions the administrative process, known as a “streamlined voluntary conversion,” which allows small housing authorities to more easily shut down public housing sites in exchange for Section 8 vouchers that subsidize privately owned rentals. 

HUD has maintained that the streamlined process serves the public interest by reducing the administrative burden on housing authorities and ensuring more reliable federal funding. The federal housing agency also says that blocking the Acre Road shutdown means that remaining tenants would be forced to live in substandard, deteriorating conditions at the complex.

Across the country, public housing units have declined in number as capital repair needs remain underfunded by Congress.

In Jefferson Parish, the local housing authority has previously deemed the use of funds to maintain the dilapidated Acre Road a “wasted investment” compared with offering Section 8 vouchers.

As of late July, only 38 of Acre Road’s 200 units were leased, according to HUD data. Security and safety issues have increased as tenants have moved out of the complex, according to the federal housing agency.

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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...