Ongoing tensions between the Howard family on Youngs Road and the port authority of Morgan City regarding the family’s long-term presence on the property and its fear of eminent eviction due to the port’s future needs on the land surfaced at last week’s port commission meeting.
The issue was not on the agenda for the Aug. 15 meeting of the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District, but nearly 10 members of the Howard family attended and spoke with commissioners and port attorney Gerard Bourgeois about the port’s plans for the area where some of the Howard family lives.
The family members cited a nearly century-old verbal agreement with the long-deceased Young brothers who had owned the property.
There are three occupied residences on the land, and the tenants each pay $5 rent every month to the port.
The port leases most of the property over which it has jurisdiction from the H&B Young Foundation to develop the land as it sees fit, but the Howard family claims there was a verbal agreement with Hugh Young to allow any descendent of Linzy Howard Sr. to occupy a section of land northeast of the port offices just east of the railroad spur leading to the port.
“We’ve been located on a certain piece of property located directly across from here for over 70 years,” John Augman of the Howard family said.
“Now, we had an agreement with the Young family that that agreement would go on as long as Linzy Howard had a descendent who wanted to live on the property. So, we just want to know the port’s standing, what y’all want to do with this property, and where we fit in,” he said.
Bourgeois, whom Augman claims as a friend from school, responded to Augman by telling him that unverifiable verbal agreements to which the port was not a party were not a part of the port’s written agreement with the Young Foundation for its lease of the foundation’s land.
“If there’s nothing in writing, then that agreement isn’t binding,” Bourgeois said.
“That’s where I beg to differ, sir,” he said.
“I know, I know,” Bourgeois said, nodding his head.
Augman, who works as a paralegal said, “Because this agreement was negotiated in the late 1930s or early 1940s, and at that time, under Louisiana law, oral agreements would be binding. It didn’t necessarily have to be in writing to have full force of the law, and that law would apply today. We’d have to go by those laws, not the existing laws that say it would have to be in writing,” he said.
“The Young Foundation was aware of the agreement when they made the agreement with you all, and they passed it on to you. We have witnesses to the actual agreement, and I don’t believe you have any witnesses to the agreement,” Augman said.
Bourgeois said, “We have written leases that were signed by the family and the Young Foundation.”
These leases followed the verbal agreement, Augman said.
The Howard family’s presence at the meeting stemmed from a letter on the issue sent by Bourgeois to the Howard tenants.
Bourgeois said that he would arrange a meeting in the near future on the matter.
“You need to talk to an attorney,” Bourgeois said. “You can’t make those kinds of statements. There’s a rental agreement in place right now that was there when the port took over. It gave a 30-day monthly rental agreement. If you’re going to challenge those things in place, things will have to change, and I don’t think you want to do that,” Bourgeois said, referring partially to the far-below-market price of rent which, after the meeting, he said acts as a disincentive for the tenants to seek living arrangements elsewhere.
Genevieve Howard Brown, an aunt of Augman said, “We’re not going to fuss about this property because this property is not for me, you or anyone in here,” she said.
“My family, my mother, father and grandparents all worked for the Youngs a long time ago, and they said this property will always be for Howards to live on. Now, they have me paying rent. This is not supposed to be. They actually had just gotten out of slavery when they were working for the Youngs,” she said.
“I don’t know why we have to come here after this was discussed all these years ago and plead for something that is legally ours. I don’t understand it,” Brown said.
Augman said, “That would be a good idea if you could set up a hearing date and get someone from the Young Foundation there. We’re going to have to have a meeting of the minds to clarify everyone’s position.
“This may not have been on the agenda, but this is a very pressing issue for this family who has been here 80 years on a piece of property that they consider a donation from the Young Foundation. Then, some 20 or 30 years ago, you come in. Instability causes chaos,” he said.
Jerry Gauthier, port president, said, “We don’t have anything cooking right now, but we do have people who approach us from time to time wondering if they can build something on it.”
Bourgeois said at some point the port would need the property.
“You know, we’re going to look into it, seriously, but as far as I am concerned, I don’t see anything that gives them a legal right to be there other than the rental agreements that we have,” Bourgeois said.
“The Howard family believes that the Youngs promised them the property as owners of some sort,” he said.
Bourgeois said that avoiding such confusion and disagreement is why property agreements are in writing.
“In fact, that’s the rule. If you transfer property, you have to do it in writing,” he said.
Bourgeois said that the rent from the Howard family — a total of $15 per month, $5 coming from each of the three houses — is paid to the port commission because the port commission leases the land from the Young Foundation with the right to sublease it, as it does for all of the industrial tenants.