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The End of the Road?

by Chris Toombs and
David Stanowski

20 November 2009

On balance, people vote with their feet and move from locations of less opportunity to places of more opportunity, if they are aware of better opportunities, and have the ability to move.

There is more migration into this country than out of this country. There is more migration into the State of Texas than out of the State of Texas, but there is less migration into the City of Galveston than out of the City of Galveston. This is because Galveston is a city in decline.

The population of the State of Texas increased 154% between 1960 and 2008, while Galveston’s population declined 15%; from 67,175 to 57,086! This appears to show that Galveston has far fewer opportunities than the typical city in one of the country’s fastest growing states. If this city had grown at the same rate as the State, the population would now stand at 170,586, but it’s currently estimated to be 45,000; less than a third of that amount.

Some of the 12,000 residents displaced by Hurricane Ike have not returned because their homes or rental units have not been rebuilt or repaired, but the Urban Land Institute estimates that there are about 9,000 vacant housing units in the City, so after being forced off the Island by the Hurricane, many simply seemed to reconsider what their opportunities had been prior to the Storm, and have made a permanent move to other areas that offered them better prospects.

There has been no outcry to get all of our 12,000 displaced residents back to the City, because, for the most part, if they had wanted to return; they would have done so. However, there are special interest groups who argue that the people who lived in the four GHA Family Housing Projects, which were destroyed by Ike, MUST be returned to the Island. Why has the City been thrown into this great controversy over only 10% of our displaced residents while the other 90% are mostly ignored? The simple answer is that the Poverty Industry stands to lose a great deal of money if those particular people do not return.

Galveston’s middle class has the know how to identify better opportunities in other cities, and the resources to relocate, if they choose to do so, but the residents of GHA’s Family Housing Projects do not, so they become pawns of the Poverty Industry. Since Hurricane Ike forced them to move, they are now in a position to explore better prospects in other locations. Rather than help them take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, the Poverty Industry demands their return!

If the GHA actually made it their highest priority to help their displaced tenants  relocate, this agency would be forced to downsize, so some or all of its employees could loose their livelihood. Therefore, their top priority is rebuilding the four Housing Projects.

In 1997, residents of the GHA Family Housing Projects brought a lawsuit against the GHA alleging that through various actions and failures to act, over the course of more than 50 years, the GHA subjected them to racial segregation. The City of Galveston was also a defendant.

The resulting Consent Decree called for the relocation of Public Housing Units into “majority-White areas”, and GHA also agreed to actually enforce their existing rules and regulations governing the conduct of their tenants and other persons on GHA properties, and their Housing Quality Standards in all Section 8 units.

The preliminary investigation conducted by the GOGP seems to show that the GHA is still not enforcing its Housing Quality Standards in all Section 8 units as demonstrated by the many dilapidated properties in their program. Likewise, GHA could hardly be enforcing its existing rules and regulations governing the conduct of their tenants when viewed in light of City crime statistics.

From 01 September 2007 to 01 September 2008, 21% of all the crimes in Galveston, as defined by GPD case reports, were in the areas containing and surrounding the four Family Housing Projects. Since these same areas represented approximately 2.5-3.0% of the City’s total population, the crime rate, and city services needed to deal with it was about seven times the average for the City.

Finally, looking at the density of Public Housing Units at the four Family Housing Projects, prior to Hurricane Ike, makes it very unlikely that GHA had moved enough housing units into majority-White areas to satisfy the Consent Decree. However, the destruction of the former Family Housing Projects makes it much easier to achieve that goal today than when people would have had mixed feelings about moving out of existing units and into new neighborhoods.

About 2% of the U.S. population is currently living in Public Housing or is using a Housing Authority voucher, but if the GHA rebuilds the 569 units lost to Ike, approximately 11% of Galveston’s population will be living in Public Housing or be using a Housing Authority voucher; assuming a population of 45,000. In other words, the GHA’s rebuilding plan will result in five times more housing units, dependent on public assistance than the national average which is simply not good for the City.

Even worse; before Hurricane Ike devastated this city, 88% of all the Public Housing Units, and 76% of all the Section 8 vouchers in Galveston County were in the City of Galveston which only contained 20% of the County’s population. La Marque had a few Section 8 vouchers, but Texas City was the only other city with any substantial measure of Public Housing Units, or Section 8 vouchers. It is our understanding that Texas City will not rebuild its Public Housing Units, so 100% of the Public Housing Units in Galveston County are now located in the City of Galveston. This concentration goes far beyond what this city can absorb and support.

Keeping the vast majority of the County’s low-income residents trapped in a city with a weak economy and struggling school system, as the City begins a multi-year recovery from a Hurricane leaves them little opportunity to better their lives. When viewed from the racial perspective, the defacto segregation within the County is far more extreme than within the City.

When comparing the seven major cities in Galveston County, notice how the three cities with Public Housing have the highest crime rates, the lowest Median Household Incomes, and the lowest school district rankings.

City 2007
Crime Rate

Average = 320

948 Districts
in TX
Galveston 650 $35,610 735
La Marque 568 $42,938 821
Texas City 453 $44,321 571
Santa Fe 275 $58,600 ?
Dickinson 266 $51,741 444
League City 175 $78,596 89
Friendswood 99 $85,509 ?

Even though the 1997 Consent Decree appears to have expired, since the issues cited in it have not been resolved, it could easily be revisited in federal court, or a new lawsuit could be filed by former residents of the Family Housing Projects, or by other parties.

The GOGP will be requesting that HUD work with the Galveston County Commissioners Court to set up a county-wide housing authority that will replace the Public Housing Authorities in Galveston, La Marque and Texas City. A County Housing Authority could place the former residents of GHA’s Family Housing Projects into majority-White areas throughout the entire County, resulting in more effective and successful de-segregation than could be accomplished just within the City of Galveston. 

The City of Baltimore has a demographic composition within Baltimore County that is very similar to the City of Galveston and Galveston County. In 2005, the ACLU and the NAACP sued HUD alleging that it had made little or no effort to de-segregate its minority population throughout the entire county which had forced them to concentrate into Public Housing Projects in the City. In this case, Thompson v HUD, the Court ruled for the Plaintiff stating that, “Baltimore City should not be viewed as an island reservation for use as a container for all of the poor of a contiguous region including (the surrounding counties).” And, “The Court finds an approach of regionalization to be integral to desegregation in the Baltimore Region…” 

In another case, Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York v Westchester County, NY the Plaintiff filed a claim as a whistle blower under the False-Claims Act alleging that Westchester County, New York had not “met its obligations to affirmatively further fair housing.”

“To meet this obligation, the County was required to conduct an analysis of the impediments to fair housing choice, including impediments erected by racial and ethnic discrimination or segregation, and to take appropriate actions to overcome the effects of any such impediments.”

“As part of its applications for funding under the HUD grant program, between 2000 and 2008 the County periodically certified that it was meeting its obligations to affirmatively further fair housing.” The complaint alleged that Westchester County had made a false claim that they were in compliance.

The Court agreed, and in the settlement, the County was forced to spend $30 million to ensure the development of 750 units of fair and affordable housing in areas with low racial and ethnic diversity, to pay the U.S. government $30 million, and the whistle blower $7.5 million, and to submit to the oversight and enforcement authority of a court-appointed Monitor.

Both the Baltimore case and the Westchester County case seem to be right on point!

Looking back at the history of Galveston County, it is clear that early in the 20th Century the City of Galveston was the economic engine and the population center of the County. After WWII, as more business located on the Mainland, and many people wanted the suburban lifestyle offered by new subdivisions, the population center moved north as more and more of the middle class left the City which lead to a higher concentration of low-income minorities who did not have the resources to move. The Public Housing Projects also kept some of the City’s prime property off the tax rolls which forced the remaining residents to pay higher taxes; still another reason to leave.

This lead to a vicious cycle of an underfunded and under performing school system that drove more people off the Island, lower revenues to City government, loss of businesses, and further decline. The remaining middle class and the low-income minorities both suffered as these trends lead to further population loss.

The only way to solve this problem is to create a Galveston County Housing Authority that can re-locate low-income minorities to majority-White areas throughout the County where their opportunities are much better, and it will remove the burden on the City created by concentrating such a high number of the County’s poor on the Island. 

Other resources:
The Future of Fair Housing
The Geography of Opportunity
John Powell in Thompson v HUD

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