Cashauna is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, where she leads a team working to fulfill the organization’s mission to end discriminatory housing policies and practices through litigation and policy advocacy, along with fair housing trainings and foreclosure prevention counseling. As an advocate, leader, and litigator with lived experience and personal connections to the impacts of residential segregation and exclusionary housing policy, her work as Executive Director has included leading the community engagement process for the City of New Orleans’ 2016 Assessment of Fair Housing plan — the first in the nation submitted under a 2015 rule requiring state and local governments to identify and address barriers to fair housing choice. We asked Cashuauna about her work with LaFHAC and the policy changes she would advocate for to advance housing equity.
4E: Why is fair housing critical for a community’s economic success?
CH: Where we live predicts much about how our lives will turn out — what kind of jobs and income we have access to, whether we’ll have access to fresh food and produce, and even how long we’ll live. Because discriminatory housing policies and practices keep people out of well-resourced communities, housing discrimination perpetuates poverty, and robs people of access to opportunity. This lack of access and opportunity contributes directly to a community’s economic success in the forms of its ability to attract and maintain industry, sustain tax base, expand workforce, and improve quality of place — the building blocks for economic development.
4E: The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated housing challenges in communities across the country. How did LaFHAC respond to these challenges in Louisiana?
CH: Initially, LaFHAC shifted the majority of our resources and staff time to address the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of our ongoing response efforts, LaFHAC’s work now includes providing free legal representation to renters facing eviction. In addition, we’ve diversified the ways we’re offering our services. We now provide eviction-related resources in three languages: English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and have prioritized the development of toolkits to ensure that residents understand their rights and the resources available to them to navigate evictions, natural disasters, and discriminatory practices. Historically, we have always offered resources to support property owners’ capacity to operate in accordance with fair housing standards, and we hope that owners continue to utilize those resources during these trying times.
4E: What pandemic trends do you anticipate continuing and what should communities be considering as areas of investment moving forward?
CH: Unfortunately, data shows that New Orleans’ eviction rate is exceeding pre-pandemic levels. This trend is now true in many communities across the country. These realities will unfortunately be exacerbated by the imminent implications of global warming and climate change, the impacts of which we’re already experiencing. In New Orleans, gentrification fueled by climate change has already led to mass displace of Black and Latinx renters. Without widespread efforts to address these crises, and to ensure that families remain housed, we can expect to see families continuing to be forced from their homes.
4E: What policy changes would you most like to see at the federal or state level?
CH: There are numerous policy changes that would have immediate impact at all levels of government. Some immediate priorities include: applying an equity lens to disaster recovery programs; promotion of fair lending; strong enforcement of fair housing protections ensuring that persons with arrests or convictions in their backgrounds can remain housed; and protection for LGBTQ+ community members. As best practice, communities should consider the development of strategies that promote inclusive city planning, policies and procedures to ensure fair housing choice, advance zoning based on equitable access and opportunity, and increase the amount of housing stock accessible to all people, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.
4E: While LaFHAC covers the full state of Louisiana, we know your office is based in New Orleans. What should we check out the next time we’re in town?
CH: New Orleans is full of amazing experiences! I find that you can’t go wrong anytime you’re willing to get outside and discover something.
Though New Orleans has its own unique housing challenges, gentrification, exposure to natural disasters, and discriminatory housing policies affect nearly every community. Fourth Economy works to provide communities with plans that identify barriers to housing access, affordability, and equity and can work to create implementable strategies to improve outcomes.