Photo: Houston Housing Authority
Opponents of the Houston Housing Authority’s mixed-income complex at 2640 Fountain View say the site is inappropriate for an affordable housing project.
Mayor Sylvester Turner’s opposition to a mixed-income apartment complex near Houston’s affluent Galleria area has prompted a federal investigation into whether the city’s placement of affordable housing violates the Civil Rights Act.
The proposed development at 2640 Fountain View would have been the Houston Housing Authority’s first project in a so-called “high opportunity” neighborhood and became emblematic of a push to avoid patterns of racial segregation in subsidized housing programs.
However, the 233-unit development sparked fierce community and political opposition. Residents worried about school crowding, increased traffic and a potential reduction of area property values.
Citing Fountain View,the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began the probe of Houston last month to assess potential violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, according to a letter dated Aug. 26. The review also will determine whether to bring a complaint under the Fair Housing Act.
“The investigation will include a review of the city’s practices with respect to the siting of public and affordable housing, including but not necessarily limited to the circumstances under which the city reportedly withheld support for the ‘2640 Fountain View’ housing development,” the letter says.
The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination by private and public entities based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability, while the broader Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color or national origin.
If HUD’s investigation reveals any violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the agency first would seek informal, voluntary compliance, according to the letter. If such negotiations are unsuccessful, the agency could pull federal funding.
No change of heart
Turner said he has not changed his position on the Fountain View project in light of the letter.
“Since receiving the letter, I have had a very positive conversation with HUD Secretary (Julian) Castro in which he made it very clear that this is standard procedure,” Turner said in an emailed statement. “I fully expected they would want to review the decision.”
Turner spokeswoman Janice Evans also sought to characterize the federal inquiry as a review rather than an investigation.
HUD’s letter uses the word “investigation” six times, including in the subject line.
Elizabeth Julian, former HUD assistant secretary for fair housing, said Title VI investigations are not in fact standard operating procedure.
“HUD just doesn’t initiate Title VI investigations right and left,” Julian said, noting that complaints usually are filed from outside groups. “It’s not routine. It’s not standard, and it should be taken very seriously I would think.”
Turner declined last month to bring the Fountain View project to a vote at City Council, citing “costs and other concerns.”
In doing so, Turner prevented the $53 million development from receiving tax credit financing.
The mayor stated his commitment to building affordable housing in neighborhoods with low poverty and access to highly rated schools, but he also emphasized his desire to revitalize distressed communities.
“I don’t want it to be the story that in order for people to have an opportunity, they have to move and go someplace else,” Turner told City Council. “I want people to feel like they can live in any district in this city and have the opportunity to succeed, have quality housing, can go to quality neighborhood schools, and I think we need to make a commitment to that.”
Turner also said he discussed his decision with Castro, the HUD Secretary.
“He indicated to me that HUD would not have an issue with me not deciding to proceed on this particular project, as long as my commitment was to build affordable housing in the city of Houston,” Turner said.
Project sought in District G
Housing authority president Tory Gunsolley said the agency is no longer actively pursuing the Fountain View project.
Instead, at Turner’s direction, it has requested proposals for alternative projects in the same west Houston area, Council District G.
Explore the tax credit projects City Council has recently considered
Texas municipalities began in 2014 to formally weigh in on proposed affordable housing developments applying for tax credits. Houston City Council has supported 53 projects in the last three years, most of which were located in census tracts with higher poverty than the citywide rate of 22.9 percent. Click on each site to learn about the area’s poverty rate and population density.
Note: Not every development that City Council supported has been awarded tax credits.
Source: Data compiled by Rebecca Elliott | Map created by Rachael Gleason
A law firm representing fair housing advocacy groups Texas Appleseed and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service warned Turner in April that the city risked violating federal law if it failed to support the Fountain View project given its history of concentrating affordable housing in low-income, high-minority areas.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that policies with a “disparate impact” on minorities violate the Fair Housing Act, even if the effect is unintentional.
“All I can say is I hope that the city can find a way to fulfill its requirements to the citizens of the city to desegregate what is now a segregated subsidized housing system that has been operated for many decades in the city,” said John Henneberger of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service.
Houston public housing practices face federal investigation
STATE & REGIONAL By AP – Associated Press
HOUSTON — Houston public housing practices have come under federal review amid a dispute involving Mayor Sylvester Turner over where to build a planned $53 million apartment complex.
The city was advised of the investigation in an Aug. 26 letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Houston Chronicle reported Saturday.
Authorities will review whether the city’s placement of affordable housing violates the Civil Rights Act, according to the letter to Turner.
Turner, who has opposed a mixed-income, 233-unit complex near Houston’s affluent Galleria area, last month declined to let the City Council vote on whether the Fountain View project could receive tax credit financing, the newspaper reported. The mayor cited “costs and other concerns.”
Turner has said he’s committed to building affordable housing in neighborhoods with low poverty and access to highly rated schools, but he also wants to revitalize distressed communities.
“The investigation will include a review of the City’s practices with respect to the siting of public and affordable housing, including but not necessarily limited to the circumstances under with the City reportedly withheld support for the ‘2640 Fountain View’ housing development,” Garry Sweeney, director of HUD’s Fort Worth office, wrote in the letter.
Houston receives federal financial assistance from the agency.
The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination by private and public entities based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability. The broader Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color or national origin.
Turner said he hasn’t changed his position on the Fountain View project since being advised of the investigation.
“Since receiving the letter, I have had a very positive conversation with HUD Secretary (Julian) Castro in which he made it very clear that this is standard procedure,” Turner said in a statement. “He indicated to me that HUD would not have an issue with me not deciding to proceed on this particular project, as long as my commitment was to build affordable housing in the city of Houston.”