Texas General Land Office racially discriminated against with $4 billion in aid to Harvey, HUD says

The Department of Housing and Urban Development said the Texas General Land Office discriminated against minority residents with $4 billion in federal Hurricane Harvey relief money, giving disproportionately less money to communities on the basis of race and national origin.

That’s according to a new 13-page analysis from the department, sparked by a lawsuit filed by two nonprofit groups that work on recovery issues related to Harvey, Texas Housers and Northeast Action Collective.

The department’s investigation found that the Texas General Land Office violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 9 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (which prohibits the discrimination when using federal housing money) last year with how he spiked the Hurricane Harvey Mitigation Fund, better known as the Developmental Block Grant Mitigation Fund community.

“The Department believes that the design and operation of the Contest discriminated on the basis of race and national origin,” HUD wrote of the GLO’s program to award relief funds to Harvey.

“GLO used two scoring criteria that significantly and predictably disadvantaged minority residents, with particularly disparate results for black residents,” HUD continued. “First, GLO excluded areas designated by HUD as most affected and distressed from competing for 50% of the contest funds, despite nearly 90% of the eligible population residing in those areas. Second, GLO scored applicants based on jurisdiction size, awarding more points to a smaller jurisdiction than to a larger jurisdiction for an equivalent project.

“GLO used these two criteria even though they disadvantaged areas with the greatest mitigation needs by GLO’s own measurement and ran counter to the intended focus on low and moderate income (LMI) households. “, said HUD.

The letter and analysis concluded by urging the GLO to find a “voluntary resolution” with a clear timeline or HUD would refer the case to the Department of Justice for judicial enforcement.

In a video press release, Texas Housers Advocacy Director David Wheaton said they had raised complaints about how the GLO was proposing to distribute Harvey relief money in 2020, but those complaints fell into deaf ear.

“The GLO has never responded to our repeated written complaints or made any effort to discuss with us the serious civil rights issues we have raised,” Wheaton said.

“Tragically, but predictably, the GLO’s decision that violated civil rights laws has delayed the allocation of much-needed funds to areas of our state at risk of future disaster,” Wheaton said. “This delay is the only fault of the GLO.”

Wheaton said this type of discriminatory behavior against Texans of color with federal relief funds is part of an “ongoing pattern” by the Texas government that dates back to 2010, when another Texas Housers complaint was filed. led to changes in the way federal money was distributed following Hurricanes Ike. and Dolly.

The GLO has been led by Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush since 2015. Bush is seeking the Texas attorney general’s nomination and is now in a runoff with incumbent Ken Paxton.

Julia Orduña, Southeast Texas regional director for Texas Housers, said the GLO has massively underfunded the reconstruction of rental housing, and when it has funded housing, rents are unaffordable for disaster survivors. .

“We urge HUD to expedite its review of all aspects of GLO’s administration of federal funds that have discriminated against low- and middle-income communities of color, especially GLO’s failure to effectively administer billions in federal funds. to provide affordable rental housing for survivors of Hurricane Harvey,” Orduña said.

Doris Brown, co-founder of Northeast Action Collective, said she filed the complaint with HUD because of historical discrimination of black and brown communities.

“With the new findings from the HUD, we hope to be able to solve this problem,” Brown said. “We can put this discrimination behind us. We can reduce the infrastructure in our neighborhood so that we don’t have to experience flooding. We’ve had enough of the floods.

“We want fairness in our neighborhoods,” Brown said. “We no longer want to be seen as sustainable neighborhoods and we are proud and happy with this decision as it shines a light on a dark, historic disinvestment from black and brown communities.”

In a statement reacting to the news, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city had no interest in fighting the state GLO because no one would benefit.

“We’re asking for our proportionate share of flood mitigation dollars, and that’s what HUD says,” Turner said. “HUD says you can’t take the money we’re sending to Texas because of Hurricane Harvey and then direct most of those profits out of Houston and Harris County, which had 50% damage.”

It just doesn’t make sense because it defeats the intent and it benefits other communities that aren’t as flood prone as Houston Harris County,” Turner said.

Gregory M. Roy