As of September 29 at 10 a.m., Lorraine McCalebb will be homeless. McCallebb, who lives in one of the Housing Authority of New Orleans' (HANO) "scattered site" (non-development) public buildings in Algiers was officially ordered out of her home, where she now lives with her daughter and grandchild, following an eviction hearing on September 27 in Judge Mary "KK" Norman's courtroom in New Orleans Second City Court.
"I don't know where I'm going to go," said a flustered McCalebb after leaving court yesterday.
McCalebb, who has been appearing at HANO and City Council meetings to protest her eviction, had a throng of witnesses at her side to dispute the eviction, which Norman had dismissed at an earlier hearing in August after HANO's attorney did not appear on time, according to courtroom statements from Norman and HANO lawyer Tammie Jackson.
McCalebb and Eloise Williams, a longtime community activist who came to court on her behalf, say HANO has mishandled the eviction, citing apparent inconsistencies between McCalebb's August and September court summonses. McCalebb also says that the agency refused to give her additional time to vacate her home in retaliation for speaking publicly about the issues surrounding her eviction. HANO officials deny both allegations.
"If you go over these documents, you'll find all kinds of fraud," Williams said in court yesterday.
McCalebb had been living in her current home and a nearby scattered site building since 2007 at a rental rate of $50 per month. When her daughter got a job last March, she did not immediately report the new income to the agency. When she did in June, McCalebb signed a new lease at a rate of $329 per month, retroactively payable from April.
Soon after signing the lease, though, claims McCallebb, she claims discovered an error. HANO, she says, was counting $131 per month she receives from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development utility payment reimbursements as income. And that error, again this is her claim, is why she has not to this point paid her rent.
In August, she received an eviction notice, which McCalebb provided Gambit, from HANO at the $329 rate, or a total of $1,341 for April 1-July 31.
McCalebb's court date was on August 16, but Norman dismissed it when HANO's attorney Tammie Jackson failed to appear on time. Court begins at 10 a.m.
"I was here at 10:11," Jackson told Norman yesterday.
Norman dismissed the case, sought advice from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and attended the August and September HANO Board of Commissioners meetings, as well as last week's City Council regular meeting, to dispute the eviction, which, again she argued, was based on an erroneous rental rate.
Then, in September, HANO appears to have admitted its error, albeit in the form of another eviction notice rather than what McCalebb was hoping for — an offer to work out a payment plan at the new, correct rent. The notice was now amended to $198 (which is $329 minus $131, the amount of McCalebb's utility reimbursement) for April 1-August 31, a total of $1,433.
Asked why HANO was demanding another immediate eviction despite the fact that its own court filing appeared to demonstrate that HANO had realized its mistake, agency spokeswoman Lesley Eugene said that Judge Norman did not see it that way.
"We can't discuss anything in this case because she has a confidentiality clause in her contract with HANO," Eugene said. Known as a right of privacy clause, it prohibits the agency from discussing the details of any tenant's contract. "What I can share, because it's gone through the court, the judge didn't find any evidence that HANO committed an error."
She also said that McCalebb was rightly evicted. However one looks at it, she wasn't paying her rent.
"This is the same thing as any rental contract between any tenant and any private landlord," Eugene said. "Ms. McCalebb had a responsibility to pay her rent and properly report her income. She did not do that."
The other thing she didn't do was accept the agency's help, Eugene said. After she attended the board meetings, HANO Administrative Receiver David Gilmore advised that, first, she meet with a member of the agency's senior staff to discuss her problem and, second, seek out legal representation.
"It's my understanding that she did neither," Eugene said.
McCalebb, who is planning on moving tomorrow morning, told Gambit she believes that she was given such a short time to vacate in retaliation for her public outspokenness about the agency.
During her hearing, Jackson initially wanted to give McCalebb only 24 hours to vacate, even as one of McCalebb's witnesses, Ivan Williams, offered to pay the delinquent amount (now more than $1,600) out of his own pocket if she could be allowed to remain in her home for a few more weeks. Jackson refused, saying that "Ms. McCalebb has shown up at board meetings and seriously misrepresented me and HANO."
Eugene, speaking on behalf of Jackson, denied that statement, or at the very least denied that the statement was given as a justification for HANO's actions.
"That absolutely did not happen as far as [Jackson] was concerned," Eugene said, adding that it is every tenant's right to attend and speak at HANO meetings.
Eugene gave the following statement from HANO Administrative Receiver David Gilmore: "HANO doesn't evict people based on their attendance at a board meeting."
"That's not what HANO is about," Eugene said.