The City of Houston announced Friday that it reached a resolution with the Department of Housing and Urban Development after the city was found to have violated part of the Civil Rights Act. The announcement comes at a critical time for Houston, as it directs recovery funds from Hurricane Harvey and works to develop a comprehensive housing plan.
"This agreement resolves HUD’s previous fair housing findings against the city and outlines city strategies for addressing its affordable housing needs," according to a statement from the City.
“Today, we announce a positive agreement that works to expand housing options for lower income Houston residents, especially in neighborhoods with better performing schools and higher paying jobs,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in the statement released by the City. “We’re pleased the City is committed to making sure taxpayer-supported affordable housing development be supported and encouraged in a fair and inclusive manner.”
The initial investigation began after the mayor refused to move forward on a proposed low income housing tax credit development in August 2016 that would have been the Houston Housing Authority's first constructed in a so-called "high opportunity" area. The findings from the federal investigation, announced in January 2017, determined that housing decisions made by local leaders had reenforced segregation in the city.
Mayor Sylvester Turner pushed back against the investigation, touting local initiatives like Complete Communities, and asked HUD to revoke its findings in April 2017.
After Hurricane Harvey, housing advocates expressed concerns about the direction of Houston's housing efforts during the recovery and beyond.
Thanks to the resolution, the city will, "expand housing choice and mobility for lower income residents, including those experiencing homelessness and victims of Hurricane Harvey," according to the statement.
“If there is a silver lining to Harvey’s devastating cloud, it is that the amount of federal funding headed our way will allow us to reimagine the kind of city Houston can be,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in the statement. “We are not looking to bounce back from Harvey, but to bounce forward to a more just and more resilient city – a city of complete communities where all residents can find quality homes in neighborhoods with the economic and educational opportunities necessary to build a successful life.”
The resolution cited the city's pilot 350-voucher mobility program still getting off the ground and included language about prioritizing high opportunity neighborhoods in housing decisions. It also described the Houston Housing Authority "as a key partner in addressing the city’s affordable housing and homeless services needs and set forth a plan for provision of federal funds to HHA for programs to assist families made homeless by Hurricane Harvey," according to the statement.
The resolution also includes a provision for technical assistance from HUD to help manage the influx of recovery funds. "Approximately $5 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds have already been allocated to the State of Texas for areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey," according to the statement.
Amanda Timm, the executive director of the Houston branch of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, welcomed the announcement as a critical step for the city to move forward. But she said providing affordable housing in high opportunity areas shouldn't be the city's only priority.
"We must provide affordable housing options in high opportunity areas and we have to continue to invest public housing dollars in areas where there is disinvestment to prevent gentrification and to create opportunities for people to stay in their neighborhoods with quality housing," said Timm.
The resolution, noted Timm, also means the city can move forward on a much-needed comprehensive housing plan that she hoped includes robust public engagement. "Without that engagement, it's not equitable," she said.
Houston's Housing and Community Development Director Tom McCasland said in the statement that the resolution will help facilitate the development of the housing plan, "with input from Houston’s many communities," and that it "will place Houston on track to becoming a city where every resident has a home they can afford in a community where they can thrive.”