Public housing is intended to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Typically, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers Federal aid to local housing agencies that manage housing for low-income residents at rents they can afford. Sadly, these agencies have not always kept up their end of the bargain in Mississippi.
One of these agencies is South Delta Regional Housing Authority, which manages low-income housing units in five counties in the Mississippi Delta. In June 2009, South Delta issued notices that it intended to raise rents to levels that more than doubled the rent, across the board, with no regard for income level. Though the properties may look okay on the outside, throughout the properties, tenants reported a wide range of serious problems, including
- leaky roofs
- cracked floors
- shifting foundations
- chronic sewage and septic problems
- mold and mildew, and
- illegal electrical wiring.
Many facilities have not been updated in years, including 30-year-old fire extinguishers that have never been replaced or charged. Many homes in South Delta’s program have been condemned as unsafe for habitation, yet families still live there – and were expected to pay the increased rent.
One home in the complex is occupied by a man and his father, who is in a wheelchair. There is no permanent ramp and the home is not wheelchair accessible in any way. They were told by South Delta that they are not allowed to make modifications to the home.
When the Mississippi Center for Justice learned about the rent increases and further explored the rental agreements and properties, they, along with pro bono partner Morris & Associates in Cleveland, Miss., filed suit in federal court alleging that recent rent increases violate Mississippi law, the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, deny due process and violate the terms of their rental contracts.
The Center’s lawsuit focused on the financial practices of the management and led to a whistleblower coming forward whose revelations prompted federal charges against the director and a civil settlement with plaintiffs that resulted in lower rents and an agreement to improve maintenance services for the properties.