A recent hearing led by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., of the housing subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, included a testy exchange between the madame chair and John Trasvina, an assistant secretary for U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department over discrimination in St. Bernard Parish. For about five minutes, Waters pressed Trasvina for answers about what his agency has done to curb discrimination there.

At issue are the various parish ordinances aimed at preventing new multi-family developments in St. Bernard, one of the areas hardest hit by  Katrina. The first ordinance said that St. Bernard residents could only rent to blood relatives. Housing advocates took the matter to court saying it was discriminatory because 90 percent of the parish population is white. The Parish Council backed down in 2006 and removed that part of the ordinance. Courts struck down several similar ordinances since, and have cited the blood-relative provision as discriminatory.

The parish has in place  a rental permitting program that prohibits more than two rental properties from existing within 500 feet of each other. Some landlords have complained that nearby residents are applying for those permits without the intention of renting –  they simply don’t want renters next door or across the street. HUD is investigating those complaints.

Waters sounded displeased with the pace of that investigation by the federal housing department, and not convinced it was doing enough about discrimination – even threatening to have HUD pull its money from the parish.

The full video is below. Here’s a quick transcript from the hearing:

Maxine Waters: “You want to tell me what you’ve done to stop discrimination in St. Bernard Parish? What has HUD done?

John Trasvina: HUD has worked with the parish to evolve these ordinances away from the original ordinances. We are now examining the particular complaints that we have. We do not have a determination on the current ordinance right now.

Waters: I don’t know what you just said, but you have not been successful yet in helping to contain the local city council in its efforts to eliminate minorities from living in St. Bernard Parish.
Trasvina: That’s correct we are not yet there, or where we need to be.

Waters: … Up until this point you have not been able to turn around any of that?

Trasvina: We have not pulled the funding from St. Bernard Parish that is correct.

Waters: When are you going to do it?

Trasvina: We continue to work on that and as we resolve the complaints on that the jurisdiction will have the opportunity to make these changes before we pull funding. Our goal is not necessarilly to pull funding but to make sure that they are not discriminating.

Waters: But you haven’t done that very well have you?