Texas General Land Office racially discriminated with $4 billion of Harvey relief, says HUD

by | Mar 9, 2022 | Houston, News

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

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

The investigation by the department 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 prohbits discrimination when using federal housing dollars) last year with how it doled out Hurricane Harvey Mitigation Funds, better known as Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds. 

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

“GLO utilized two scoring criteria that substantially and predictably disadvantaged minority residents, with particularly disparate outcomes for Black residents,” HUD continued. “First, GLO excluded areas designated by HUD as most impacted and distressed from competing for 50% of the Competition funds, though nearly 90% of the eligible population resided in those areas. Second, GLO scored applicants based on jurisdiction size, providing more points to a smaller jurisdiction than it would to a larger jurisdiction for an equivalent project.”

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

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

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

“The GLO never acted on our repeated written complaints nor made any effort to discuss with us the serious civil rights issues we raised,” Wheaton said.

“Tragically, yet predictably the GLO’s decision that violated civil rights laws delayed the award of badly needed funds to areas of our state at risk of future disaster,” Wheaton said. “This delay is the sole fault of the GLO.”

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

The GLO has been run by Land Commissioner of Texas George P. Bush since 2015. Bush is seeking the Republican nomination for Texas attorney general and is now engaged in a runoff with incumbent Ken Paxton.

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

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

Doris Brown, a co-founder of Northeast Action Collective, said they filed the complaint with HUD because of historic discrimimination of Black and Brown communities. 

“With the HUD new findings we are in hopes that we can get this problem solved,” Brown said. “We can get this discrimination put behind us. We can get our neighborhood infrastructure abated so that we will not have to flood. We are tired of flooding.”

“We want equity in our neighborhoods,” Brown said. “We want to be not thought of as expendable neighborhoods anymore and we are proud and glad for this ruling because it shines a light in a dark place, the historic disinvestment of Black and Brown communities.”

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

“We are asking for our proportional share of flood mitigation dollars, and that is what HUD is saying,” Turner said. “HUD is saying you cannot take the money we are sending to Texas because of Hurricane Harvey and then direct most of those proceeds out of Houston and Harris County, which experienced 50 percent of the damage.”

That doesn’t make sense because it goes against the intent, and it benefits other communities that are not nearly as prone to flood as Houston Harris County,” Turner said.

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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