in Houston, Texas
For the mayor and city council of Galveston, it’s less about voters, more about money
Thursday, Aug 30, 2012, 02:06PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
galveston

Never mind about democratic process and local control in Galveston. In the end, it was about the money.

Mayor Lewis Rosen and a City Council elected by voters to reject rebuilding public housing destroyed by Hurricane Ike, voted unanimously to offer a housing plan to keep federal authorities from making good on a threat to withhold from the city more than $500 million in housing aid, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Or as the local paper, the Galveston Daily News, put it, the council chose to break promises to the voters who elected them over “the possibility of financial ruin and intense federal scrutiny.”

Just as they did seven years ago after Hurricane Katrina forever altered New Orleans, federal disaster officials in 2008 moved in swiftly after Hurricane Ike to aid the families displaced after 569 units of public housing was destroyed.

After more than four years the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has 40 federally funded housing units built and a local political revolution to show for it.

In June, Galveston voters gave a mandate to Rosen, who thumped an otherwise popular mayor, Joe Jaworski, and endorsed a council majority that backed a local plan to give qualified low income residents a voucher to subsidize the selection of existing housing.

In just a few days, Rosen replaced three members of the Galveston Housing Authority who supported rebuilding public housing, including the chairman. He negotiated a September resignation by the staunchest supporter on the board.

Rosen and his majority had decided to turn its back on a federal program with a 75-year history “rooted in a very idealistic and paternalistic view of helping the working class,” as the Office of Policy Development and Research Housing and Urban Development put it.

A history that includes Jacob Riis Houses in Manhattan, Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green in Chicago and Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis and other public housing projects delicately referred to by the Policy Development and Research people as “a decaying dumping ground for housing some of the poorest families in the US.”

Housing and Urban Development has continued to acquit itself in responses to hurricanes Ike and Rita in Texas covered by Texas Watchdog.

Rosen went to Washington in July at the invitation of the top officials in the federal housing hierarchy to offer up his alternative voucher plan, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In its normally flexible way, those officials told Rosen either build the public housing or we will keep the $500 million.

On Wednesday, Rosen provided a succinct, if partial, summary of all that had happened. "I think the citizens have spoken," he said. "I think the council listened."

The vote explained the rest.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of 'Hurricane Ike' by flickr user Galveston.com, used via a Creative Commons license.

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