Imagine living somewhere more than three decades, then being threatened with eviction because of the actions of a relative you have virtually no interaction with.
That’s what Barbara Gabriel faced earlier this year, after the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) gave her 10 days to vacate her two-bedroom dwelling. The eviction notice came after a nephew was arrested in connection with selling drugs in Gabriel’s complex. His aunt’s address came up as his own after a police check.
“I did not give him permission to use my address,” says Gabriel, 58, who moved into the 600-unit Iberville public housing development in 1975. “He doesn’t live with me and he is not on my lease.”
Gabriel had been targeted under a “one strike and you’re out” policy established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1996. “One strike” allows housing authorities to evict tenants following one drug-related offense.
Desperate to stay in her home, Gabriel contacted Southwest Louisiana Legal Services attorney Renae Davis. Aided by three Rutgers School of Law students working pro bono, Davis successfully defended Gabriel against HANO in court in May.
“She didn’t even know at the time that [her nephew] was anywhere near the premises when he was arrested,” Davis says. “She was at work.”
HANO filed an appeal, but “I’m almost certain that appeal is going to go away,” HANO spokesman Keith Pettigrew says. “We’re going to make this right.”
That works for Gabriel. “I prayed so hard the whole time,” she says of her legal ordeal. “I was scared I would lose my house.”
Blair S. Walker is a writer in Miami.