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Suit alleges City aimed to reduce its minority population by targeting Southeast Ridgeland apartment complexes for destruction and redevelopment


Jackson, Mississippi -- February 16, 2016 -- The Mississippi Center for Justice and Venable LLP has filed suit in federal court in Jackson alleging that the City of Ridgeland violated the Fair Housing Act by attempting to eliminate, through rezoning, five apartment complexes that are occupied by predominantly African-American and Latino residents. These complexes include Baymeadows Apartments, where the individuals named as plaintiffs in the suit reside.

In recent years, according to the suit, Ridgeland officials and certain City residents began complaining—without any supporting evidence—that the City's "changing demographics" were having a negative impact on schools, driving white residents out, and depressing property values. The Mayor and Board of Alderman identified the City's multi-family apartment complexes in Southeast Ridgeland, where a substantial percentage of the City's minorities live, as the cause of the supposed problem.

City officials tried several different measures to eliminate the apartment complexes and redevelop the properties. When it became clear that none would succeed, according to the suit, the City devised a rezoning plan that would require the complexes to be shut down. The suit accuses the City of rushing through the passage of the new zoning law without adhering to its own standard procedures for rezoning, without performing any studies or analyses that justified rezoning and, breaking from past practice, without exempting the existing use of the affected properties from the law’s restrictions.

The Southeast Ridgeland complexes are the only properties targeted for destruction under the new zoning ordinance. According to the suit, the law does not affect any other housing developments with similar population densities, including those with predominantly white residents.

"The 2014 Zoning Ordinance was intended to displace, and will have the effect of displacing, a substantial portion of Ridgeland's minority population," said John Jopling, a managing attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice. "This is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act."

"Ridgeland is using its land use authority to deprive hard-working people of their homes because of their race and national origin. The fact that the City's actions might be more subtle than other forms of discrimination does not make then any less unlawful," added Jamie Barnett, a Venable attorney and a native of Mississippi.

The suit seeks to have the rezoning provisions of the 2014 zoning law declared invalid and to prohibit the City from enforcing them.

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Mississippi Center for Justice has as its mission to create a just society is a desire to build healthy communities across Mississippi. By engaging elected officials, faith-based leaders, media, community activists, educators, childcare providers, healthcare professionals and other advocacy partners, the Mississippi Center for Justice provides the legal perspective to policy initiatives that improve the lives of Mississippians.

With offices in Jackson, Biloxi and Indianola, the Center seeks systemic solutions that promote educational opportunity, protect the rights of consumers, secure access to healthcare, ensure equity in disaster recovery and put affordable housing within the reach of all Mississippians. Please visit the individual areas of work to learn more.

Venable LLP is an American Lawyer 100 law firm serving clients globally. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with offices in California, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia, Venable LLP lawyers and legislative advisors serve the needs of our domestic and global clients in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property, regulatory, and government affairs around the globe. Venable has long recognized the importance of providing first-rate legal representation to those unable to afford a lawyer. We are signatories to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge, which calls upon law firms to devote a percentage of their work to addressing the unmet legal needs of the poor and disadvantaged.