An Austin-based group, the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to block Harvey disaster recovery funds due to ongoing violations of the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act relating to housing. The City of Houston is not a named party.
The suit filed on Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 in United States District Court, DC District, (Civ. Action No. 1:18-cv-00644) requests the following remedy: (Lawsuit Document Here)
“…issue temporary and permanent injunctions requiring HUD to enforce Title VI,AFFH, and related obligations against Houston, to withhold further disbursements of Block Grant, CDBG-DR, or other HUD funding to Houston (emphasis added)until such time as it comes into compliance with those obligations,”
This is serious business, as the suit attempts to prevent Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) dollars from being provided to the City of Houston, due to numerous violations of federal law.
This comes as no surprise to those paying attention to the recent successful push to establish the VISTA ON GESSNER project, the largest tax-credit project in Texas, right in the middle of our Sharpstown neighborhood, in southwest Houston. More low income housing in minority, low income census tracts is the generational pattern.
During the process to gain city approval to the Vista On Gessner apartments, converting them to low income restricted housing, and using tax credits and bonds for financing, I mentioned the potential impact on HUD Harvey relief funds:
“Concentrating affordable housing in low income census tracts will likely jeopardize HUD Harvey relief funds desperately needed to rebuild flooded properties and assist Houston residents.”—Jim Bigham, SW Houston Alliance.
This idea was met with wild disbelief at City Hall, in the midst of Vice Pro Tem Davis describing Sharpstown residents in attendance as “elitists”, and the negative banter of the City Council Housing Chair, but alas, I was on the right track.
The lawsuit continues to describe what we know to be the case:
“Houston remains the most racially segregated city in Texas, and one of the most segregated large cities in the country, while administering more than $30 million annually in HUD funding in a fashion that exacerbates and perpetuates segregation. Houston also regularly receives federal funding for flood relief, even as it maintains entirely different (and markedly inferior) drainage systems in predominantly minority neighborhoods, exposing the residents of those neighborhoods to increased risk from storms.”
The most racially segregated city in Texas, and housing funds (both federal and local), which could help reduce this issue, are instead used to keep segregation in place.
SEGREGATION: NATIONAL ORIGIN, POVERTY, AND RACE
From paragraph 70. of the lawsuit:
Public housing developments in Houston have been sited in such a way that public funds are used to exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, Houston’s residential segregation. With the active participation, encouragement, and support from the City of Houston over a period of 70 years, the Houston Housing Authority (HHA)—an independent agency that is not a department of city government—routinely placed its affordable “public housing” apartment developments exclusively in Houston neighborhoods characterized by segregation on the basis of race, national origin, and poverty. The following map displays those developments and their neighborhood characteristics.
Indeed, when it was described to City Council that our community housing stock is 80% apartments and multi-family, while single family homes represent a modest 7%, it fell on deaf ears. Let’s build more they said, what else can we do?
When we described to City Council that SW Houston poverty rates exceed double the City of Houston average, with the Gulfton-Sharpstown block poverty rate jumping 20% in a short seven years, we watched blank faces.
And another tax credit property, this time on the east side of Sharpstown Mall is in the pipeline, with 160 units of supportive AKA Homeless housing. New Hope Low Income housing is in the bullpen for Sharpstown, to be built on Dale Carnegie drive in the Regency Square area.
And now this failed housing policy, clearly discriminatory, and the major barrier to renewal in southwest Houston, threatens the disaster recovery funds we so desperately need.
Updates on this story coming soon!
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES AND NEWS
HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Houston civil rights violation could delay Harvey housing funds; Housing group wants money withheld until city addresses civil rights; Turner says talks continue
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Housing Group Sues to Block Houston From Controlling Hurricane Harvey Relief Funds: Texas Housers group claims in lawsuit that city policies perpetuate racial segregation
Part 1: Inclusive and desegregated communities are the only way to promote opportunity for all. We ask the courts to order HUD to do its job.
Part 2: In a segregated Houston unequal neighborhoods mean unequal flood protection
Texas Housers Asks HUD to Investigate Houston Discrimination in Infrastructure Spending
New York Times: Houston demonstrates how affordable housing programs perpetuate racial segregation
Complain to HUD regarding Harvey funds—letter to COH from HUD violating title IX
More of the same: Houston risks fair housing progress, adds to segregation