Open Government Project
A Government Watchdog Group
State of Texas
City of Galveston
Public Interest Groups
Fair Housing Review!
by David Stanowski
03 August 2012
The GOGP is in the process of updating its fair-housing research and analysis, because you just never know when you are going to need it!
Many claims are falsely made that the Conciliation Agreement requires the rebuilding of 569 Public Housing units in the City of Galveston, but those who are trying to sell this false assertion always fail to mention that the Conciliation Agreement requires that any new Public Housing units, or even project-based vouchers, in the City, MUST Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH).
Now that all of the 2010 census data is available, it is time to re-test the hypothesis, “Can additional Public Housing be built in the City of Galveston and still Affirmatively Further Fair Housing; as required by the Conciliation Agreement (CA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA)?”
Fair housing revolves around one primary factor: LOCATION.
In other words, it doesn’t really matter WHAT is built, e.g. scattered sites, high rises, mixed-income, rehabbed units, or Cold-War-Era barracks; it matters WHERE it is built.
How are acceptable locations chosen?
In their Fair Housing Planning Guide, HUD says that a regional approach should be used to achieve fair housing, and many cases, such as Thompson v HUD and Walker v HUD, had remedies that required a regional or metropolitan approach. Selecting actual building sites moves the process from the regional to the city and finally to the census tract level.
There is no one “right answer” or specific regulation to point to on how to select locations, but Professor John A. Powell developed a three-part fourteen-point scoring system that was used in the remedy to Thompson v. HUD, and his method is now in widespread use, and Professor Kirk McClure has recently developed an opportunity index for HUD that is designed to be used by public housing authorities (PHAs) to help them select the best locations for portable voucher holders in order to increase their opportunities to escape from a life of intergenerational poverty.
The HUD-commissioned McClure index should at least meet the minimum requirements for the proper site selection of building sites for “hard units”, since their criteria should be even more rigorous considering the fact that they can’t be moved after they are built. Unlike a poor choice of neighborhood made by a portable voucher holder, who can move after discovering a problem, a housing authority will have to live with its mistakes in choosing the locations for hard units for decades.
Professor McClure’s index has many similarities to Professor Powell’s. Both are the products of years of research and appeal to a basic common sense approach.
THE primary mandate of the Fair Housing Act is to de-concentrate poverty, however, some continue to ignore this fact and argue that Public Housing should be built where the greatest concentration of the poor exists which only serves to further concentrate poverty. Anything that increases the concentration of poverty violates the FHA.
Therefore, the most critical metric used in testing the proposed locations for additional Public Housing units, to see if the locations will AFFH, is the level of poverty, i.e. the percentage of individuals living below the federal poverty level. Several other metrics can also be used to support the selection process, but many have strong correlations to the level of poverty (e.g. vacant housing rates, crime rates, etc.). Powell uses a relative ranking system to find the lowest poverty areas within the region, while McClure uses the fixed definition that the level of poverty must be less than 10% to be acceptable.
Both of these fair-housing experts work primarily at the census tract level, but this analysis will use citywide demographics to focus on “the big picture”, and leave the census tract details to the secondary analysis once it is determined which cities will AFFH. For the purpose of this analysis, Galveston County is the simplest way to define the region that the GHA should use for Public Housing site selection.
The 2010 Census reveals that the City of Galveston continues to be the poorest city in the County which immediately raises the question why anyone wishing to comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act would be pushing to build ADDITIONAL Public Housing in the poorest city in the County that already contains ALL the Public Housing, for the entire County, as well as 590 Low-Income Tax Credit (LITC) units, and another 500-600 portable Section 8 voucher holders! How could this possibly de-concentrate poverty? How could anyone want to build additional units in this city when every other city in the County offers an environment with less poverty than the City of Galveston?
One of the real surprises in the 2010 census data is that the loss of Oleander Homes, Cedar Terrace and Magnolia Homes did NOT decrease the concentration of poverty in this city! Poverty actually increased in the City of Galveston from 22.3% in 2000 to 22.5% in 2010. This fact alone should have caused HUD to order the dispersal of Public Housing to other cities in an effort to reduce the already unacceptable levels of poverty in the City. Adding more units can only make a bad situation worse. However, HUD often allows "political considerations" to trump the rights of the poor that they are supposed to protect, as they ignore the requirements of the FHA.
At this early point in the process, it is already clear that the City of Galveston fails as a location for additional Public Housing, due to its high level of poverty, and the analysis could conclude right here; but there is much more to the story.
The second vitally important factor needed in any city for it to be suitable for Public Housing is the availability of jobs. However, it is not just the number of jobs; it is job growth that really counts. Without job growth, how are those at the bottom of the economic ladder going to find a way to enter the labor force?
The BLS only provides the following data base for cities with populations greater than 25,000, so only four cities in the County can be directly compared.
Galveston had 30,994 jobs in July 1995, but it is down to 20,828 in June 2012, the latest available data. This means that not only did the City have no job growth, over this period, it LOST 32.8% of the jobs it used to have. How can Galveston possibly be a city that offers opportunities to those struggling to enter the labor force when it has a long history of job loss?
Texas City had 21,091 jobs in July 1995, but it is down to 19,266 in June 2012, the latest available data. This means that not only did Texas City have no job growth, over this period, it LOST 8.7% of the jobs it used to have. How can Texas City possibly be a city that offers opportunities to those struggling to enter the labor force when it has a long history of job loss?
Friendswood had 14,320 jobs in July 1995, but it is up to 18,275 in June 2012, the latest available data. This means that Friendswood had job growth of 27.6%, over this same period. This is a city that does offer opportunities to those struggling to enter the labor force.
League City had 19,278 jobs in July 1995, and is up to 44,156 in June 2012, the latest available data. This means that League City had job growth of 129.1%, over this same period. This is a city that does offer opportunities to those struggling to enter the labor force.
How can anyone justify putting additional Public Housing units in the City of Galveston, when Friendswood and League City offer so much greater employment opportunities?
The third vitally important factor needed in any city for it to be suitable for Public Housing is an excellent public school system. There are numerous studies showing the negative impact on all students in schools with a high number of economically disadvantaged students. Professor Powell uses this metric as part of his index.
"...school quality and the economic status of its student body have been shown to have significant connections to student performance. Higher poverty schools have been proven to negatively impact student performance, regardless of the individual student’s economic status. Also, teachers in higher poverty schools must spend more time to address the additional needs of high poverty students and as a result have less time to focus on teaching course work."
Remedial Phase Expert Report, by John A. Powell, In Thompson v. HUD, August 19, 2005
Why does anyone want to build Public Housing in Galveston when Santa Fe, League City and Friendswood clearly offer superior schools for children struggling to escape from poverty?
The examination of other metrics used by these two fair-housing experts confirms the obvious message shown above by the three primary indicators presented here; Santa Fe, League City and Friendswood are the cities where Public Housing should be built in order to AFFH and offer its residents the best opportunity to escape from a life of intergenerational poverty.
The City of Galveston suffers from the worst poverty, the worst job opportunities, and has a public school system burdened with an extremely high number of economically disadvantaged students making it clearly the worst place to build Public Housing in the entire County. Building in Galveston traps Public Housing residents in dead end lives and it is shameful for government authorities and housing advocates to even suggest that this should or must be done.
Are there other reasons why additional Public Housing should not be built in the City of Galveston?
Part of HUD’s mandatory “Environmental Review” is something that they call “Environmental Justice”.
Many communities are exposed to disproportionate health and environmental dangers because of their social, economic, or political position. The impacts of agency projects must take account of these disproportionate dangers and alleviate them when recognized. Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations," establishes that the agency "shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations." More information on environmental justice is in the Council on Environmental Quality publication, "Environmental Justice Guidance under the National Environmental Policy Act".
The GOGP review of the disproportionate “environmental dangers” that Public Housing residents will be exposed to by building in the City of Galveston are:
1. It will place residents in the Seaward Hurricane Wind Risk Zone when the less risky Inland I and Inland II Wind Risk Zones are available on the Mainland.
2. It will place residents in the highest risk hurricane flood zones when far less risky areas are available on the Mainland.
3. The three former housing project footprints north of Broadway, where the bulk of the re-building is targeted, are in industrial areas that violate the Environmental Justice regulations by placing poor minority residents: within 1,000 feet of busy highways (Broadway, Harborside) and within 3,000 feet of railroads, subjecting them to high levels of noise; and within 3,000 feet of numerous possible contamination sites, identified by the EPA, subjecting them to higher potential health hazards than more affluent residents.
Given these facts, why do so many powerful forces want to build additional Public Housing in the City of Galveston? The simple answer is that it is the product of a corrupt and sinister political bargain. To some degree it seeks to confer political power on certain groups, but primarily it is all about MONEY. That is the reason why HUD, the GLO, the GHA, the City of Galveston, Texas Appleseed and Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service (TXLIHIS) have all ignored the fair-housing mandate to move Public Housing residents to areas that de-concentrate poverty and offer them greater opportunities. Various politically-connected people make a lot of money by building Public Housing and providing services to it.
Are there any acceptable neighborhoods in the City of Galveston?
There are four census tracts that satisfy McClure’s MINIMUM requirement that they have poverty levels less than 10%, but all four are contained in a city that has no job growth, a school system crippled with the economically disadvantaged, and with the highest possible wind and flood risks. So how could anyone justify building in those census tracts when so many much better choices lie just a few miles north in Santa Fe, League City and Friendswood?
To make matters worse, the corrupt political forces demanding building in the City of Galveston also want the largest developments built in three of the worst census tracts in the city that will isolate poor minorities onto reservations north of Broadway that are located in industrial areas with potential environmental contamination hazards, busy highways and other factors unsuitable for residential development. HUD rules say that placing Public Housing in such areas violates the resident’s environmental justice rights.
Why aren’t the Galveston Daily News and the Houston Chronicle analyzing and reporting on the demographic REQUIREMENTS of the Fair Housing Act? They have reported many times that if 569 Public Housing units are not rebuilt, in the City of Galveston, it will violate the FHA, but how do they know that? They think that they know that, because they are repeating what the “government authorities” and “fair housing groups” say all the time, without checking the veracity of the claims themselves.
Neither newspaper has done a detailed analysis of what a PHA actually has to do to satisfy the requirements of the FHA. Both of them obviously support the rebuilding of Public Housing in this city, so repeating the mantra that it must be done, in order to satisfy the FHA, must seem to be a good way to frighten the local politicians into doing so.
This is what it looks like when a newspaper actually examines the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, and this was done in ultra liberal Portland, Oregon. To their surprise, they found violations of the FHA almost everywhere that they looked, and it didn't take a whole lot of digging.
Their efforts produced this four-part series:
1.) Subsidized Segregation
2.) Portland's Section 8 Clients are Shifted East of 82nd Avenue
3.) Low-cost housing shut out amid riches of Lake Oswego and West Linn
4.) Homebuilders block efforts by Washington County leaders to include affordable housing
Complete Series + Links to Resources