Debevoise Successfully Advocates for Summary Judgment on Behalf of Acre Road Public Housing Development

26 April 2024

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, with co-counsel Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has successfully won summary judgment at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of current and former residents of the Acre Road public housing development (“Acre Road”) in Marrero, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. The court vacated the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (“HUD”) approval of a plan to close the historically significant Acre Road without regard to the closure’s racially discriminatory impact on its predominantly Black residents or whether residents would be able to secure adequate, safe, and comparable rental housing elsewhere.

On May 4, 2023, current and former Acre Road residents and their tenant organization filed suit, challenging a streamlined voluntary conversion (“SVC”) process developed by HUD to allow certain public housing authorities to close their inventory and issue Housing Choice Vouchers to residents to procure housing in the private rental market without conducting a conversion assessment. Under the Housing Act (42 U.S.C. § 1437t), a public housing authority must conduct a conversion assessment when applying to convert public housing from a Section 9 housing development to a Section 8 voucher system. That assessment includes a cost analysis comparing conversion to maintaining the development, an assessment of the local rental market, and an impact analysis of the conversion on the local neighborhood. But HUD’s SVC process purported to waive this requirement for small public housing authorities like the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish (“HAJP”), which manages Acre Road. HUD subsequently approved a plan to convert Acre Road without this analysis.

Many Acre Road residents opposed the SVC because local affordable housing stock that accepted Section 8 vouchers was in short supply. Residents were faced with the impossible choice of either moving to a more dangerous, more segregated area or remaining at Acre Road in deteriorating units, which the public housing authority that operates Acre Road declined to rehabilitate.

On April 19, 2024, the court held for Plaintiffs, vacating the approval of the Acre Road SVC, holding that HUD failed to account for the disparate impact and inability to obtain comparable rental housing that closure of Acre Road poses to residents. The decision will allow the affected current and former tenants an opportunity to fight for their interests by requiring HUD to provide them due consideration in any future Acre Road conversion and redevelopment plans.

The Debevoise team is led by litigation counsel Jehan Patterson and includes associates Connor Crowley, Caitlin Kim, Madeline Medeiros Pereira, Raphael Vim, and Valerie Zuckerman. The team has also included current and former associates Anu Chugh, Caroline Grueskin, and Christopher Zheng and has received case management support from Richard Bettig and Chris Butler.