in Houston, Texas
Latest blunder by state housing agency: Texas discriminated by putting too much affordable housing in poor, minority areas, court finds
Wednesday, Mar 21, 2012, 10:55AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Over the past three years, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has placed new emphasis on embarrassment in the phrase embarrassment of riches.

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled the department’s interpretation of a crazy quilt of federal and state guidelines has led to systematic, but somehow not deliberate, discrimination in its distribution of tens of millions of dollars in federal tax credits to build affordable housing in Texas.

Sounds complicated? Maybe that’s why the department needed $1.6 million of our tax money for legal representation to help them keep everything straight, according to a story today by the San Antonio Express News.

It seems that Housing and Community Affairs, which is expected to dispense $55 million of these tax credits in 2012, keeps giving them to builders to put up affordable housing in poor and minority neighborhoods.

The goal of the program, if we’re following this correctly, is to build a certain percentage of this housing in more affluent, or in the government vernacular, “high opportunity,” areas.

The department is doing woefully little high opportunity building and has 60 days to deliver a plan to change that, U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Fitzwater ordered.

The original lawsuit filed in 2008 by Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas non-profit also supported by our federal tax dollars, claimed the department had been picking projects with race bias. Fitzwater’s ruling placed the burden on something at least as pernicious, hopelessly clotted bureaucracy.

One could very nearly empathize, but the Department of Housing and Community Affairs hasn’t had much luck doing one of its core jobs of handling our federal tax dollars.

The department parted company with its executive director, Michael Gerber, last August over its inability to disburse nearly $3 billion in federal relief funds to Texans who lost property to Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Gerber’s oversight of $327 million in federal stimulus funds to weatherize low-income homes and apartments, the subject of dozens of Texas Watchdog stories, didn’t help in his performance review.

The Weatherization Assistance Program was beset by allegations of fraud, bad workmanship, and, like the hurricane funding, an inability to push the windfall out its doors.

After getting its deadline extended by six months to the end of last August, the department’s weatherization program still had not spent almost $78 million of the $327 million Congress granted them in February of 2009, according to the department’s weekly reports.

While federal officials had at the time the stimulus bill passed threatened to take back funds not spent by the deadline, Housing and Community Affairs dribbles on with $13.7 million not yet stimulating anything.

(Please see the weekly report from Sept. 26, 2011, for the end of August totals and the latest report from March 5, 2012 by scrolling here.)

It is unclear from the most transparent and accountable program in our lifetimes whatever happened to all the talk at the outset of the stimulus of “use-it-or-lose-it.”  Navigate the federal government’s $27.7 million stimulus website and try figuring out what’s been used and what’s been lost.

Don’t feel bad. We’ve been trying for years.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo 'Building Houses' by flickr user Images_of_Money, used via a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, 03/22/2012 - 11:00PM

Mr. Lisheron, did you do any research before you wrote this article? By its content, I think not. I believe you just read other articles and decided to see if you could add to other poorly researched stories. Why don't you try to do some research, get the facts straight and then try this one again.

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