Advocates seek to apply fair housing rule to Harvey funds

Housing advocates asked a federal judge Tuesday to compel the Department of Housing and Urban Development to consider potential discrimination and segregation in allocations of federal housing money, including Hurricane Harvey recovery grants.

A complaint filed by three nonprofits — the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, Texas Appleseed, and the National Fair Housing Alliance — says HUD Secretary Ben Carson acted unlawfully in January, when he delayed a rule requiring recipients of HUD funds to "affirmatively further fair housing."

The case involves a rule adopted in 2015 — 47 years after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act — that requires consideration of segregated housing patterns and unequal opportunity in decisions about the use of federal housing grants.

Carson has called the rule "social engineering," and in January HUD delayed its implementation until Oct. 31, 2020. The agency said it took the action because formulas used to determine housing discrimination weren’t working well.

Ben Carson, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is being criticized for appearing to joke about the time it will take for Puerto Rico to recover from its post-Hurricane devastation.

Media: GeoBeats

If the legal challenge succeeds, cities and counties affected by Harvey will have to revise their plans for the use of federal recovery funds, said John Henneberger, the co-director of the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service.

"It’s not just about segregation, but about disparate treatment in terms of public infrastructure" — such as neighborhoods with open ditches rather than curbs and gutters, Henneberger said.

A plan that incorporated the fair housing rule, he said, also would give recipients of recovery funds the option of moving out of hazardous or impoverished neighborhoods.

In a related development on Tuesday, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced the state’s action plan for use of disaster recovery funds had been sent to HUD for final approval. The plan details the distribution and eligible uses of $2.7 billion to assist Texas communities with long-term recovery following Hurricane Harvey.

Future amendments to the action plan will outline the eligible uses of $2.3 billion by the city of Houston and Harris County.

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Imelda Donaldson