Real Estate

DEE-seg, REE-seg. Dallas Skipped School the Day They Taught the Difference.

Hey, Julian Castro. Thanks a ton. That was sarcastic.

You’re the Obama administration’s new secretary of Housing and Urban Development. First thing you did when you took office nine months ago was yank the rug from under a major housing segregation investigation of Dallas.

Before you took over, HUD had invested four years in that investigation. Your staff had come to the conclusion that Dallas had carried out a secret City Hall agenda of racial segregation for more than a decade. You shut the whole thing down after visiting with our mayor, Mike Rawlings, a fellow Democrat and a very persuasive guy.

Nobody has ever said Dallas didn’t do all or most of the stuff your department accused it of in its findings. You and our mayor just sort of worked things out at a personal level, I guess.

So I wanted to tell you. Thanks to your personal intervention in our case, we have learned absolutely nothing. We’re still doing all of the things your investigators said we did, and we keep getting shellacked for it.

Eric Nicholson had a piece here yesterday about Dallas getting blocked by the state agency that hands out desegregation money for subsidized housing. Dallas had proposed doing just what your team said Dallas has always done — use the money for more segregation, not less.

In recent years, a number of litigants and some community leaders have been sort of metaphorically standing out in front of City Hall saying, “DEE! It’s DEE! DEEsegregation.”

And City Hall sort of shrugs, squinches up its forehead and says, “REE? REEsegregation, right?”

We’re not talking about voluntary settlement patterns. This isn’t about free choice. That’s not the issue. This is about Dallas deliberately using deseg money to steer black and Hispanic poor people back into neighborhoods that are already heavily segregated.

In this instance, city leaders gave a full court press for a project called the Gateway on Clarendon in Oak Cliff. In a letter (copy below) to the state board making the decision, Mayor Mike Rawlings warned the board they might hear some negative talk about the location proposed for the project being in a census tract that “exhibits high poverty.”

He told the board that the only reason people there were poor was that the housing there was crappy. No, Secretary Castro, I see that look on your face. I am not making this up:

“Poverty rates in this tract are skewed by the fact that many properties are in need of severe renovation,” the mayor wrote in his letter, “and many households reside in a Dallas Housing Authority Public Housing complex known as Brackin's Village.”

In so writing, the mayor was expressing a belief still common in Dallas — thanks a lot, Secretary Castro — that poverty is caused by bad-looking buildings. And, of course, nothing looks worse than public housing, so those people are really poor.

In this case, the cure for poverty brought about by public housing is to jam new public housing in right across the street from the old public housing. How would that help, you ask, Mr. Secretary? Yeah, no kidding.

The belief of the mayor and other civic leaders who joined him in pushing this project is that the new public housing will be better because it will be new. It will look good. And new good looking is just so much better than old bad looking. For a while. Get it? Sure you do.

As a cabinet member in the Obama administration and a former mayor of San Antonio, you also know that tons of research and decades of social experience prove just the contrary of those beliefs. Concentrating poor people among poor people in a socioeconomic and ethnic island makes it almost impossible for a child born to that environment to see beyond its borders, to see outside to a realm of greater possibilities.

That’s where the DEE comes in, right? If we’re going to spend federal money on housing for poor people, then we need to spend it on housing that will take them out of that environment, according to federal law. Except here. Where we don’t have to worry about federal law.

The governing board of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs just recently got its clock cleaned by the U.S. Supreme Court on this very issue. This time they decided to obey the brand-new SCOTUS ruling, and they denied the city’s request for a subsidy for this project. But, you know, Mr. Secretary, I’ve always felt kind of sorry for TDHCA in this body of litigation.

Back in 2008 when a Dallas nonprofit agency called Inclusive Communities Project first sued TDHCA for putting all these projects back in the ghetto, then Attorney General Greg Abbott tried to defend TDHCA in a response (copy below). He said basically — and I paraphrase and take liberties — something like: Hey, judge, if this is about deliberate segregation, then how come the plaintiffs didn’t sue the city of Dallas or at least think to include them as defendants?

Abbott wrote:

“Through the issuance of private activity bonds, both the City of Dallas and the Dallas Housing Authority have a major development role in low income housing and develop in the areas that are the subject of this very litigation.

“Importantly, it is this municipal control that ultimately informs where and to what extent low income housing gets developed in the City of Dallas, not TDHCA. Accordingly, there cannot be complete relief with TDHCA as the sole defendant, such that the Complaint must be dismissed for failure to name indispensable parties.”

Didn’t work. The judge wouldn’t dismiss the case and refused to add Dallas as a defendant. But I thought, yeah, no kidding. Dallas pushes and pushes the segregationist aspect of this housing policy. How come Dallas isn’t in the dock?

That’s actually what your HUD people were doing with their four-year investigation, Secretary Castro, before you visited with our mayor and cut them off at the knees. They were putting Dallas in the dock, forcing Dallas to acknowledge and comprehend what it had been doing wrong all these years with your money. So now, thanks to you, I guess we’re going to keep getting chopped up a toe at a time as with this Oak Cliff project.

There are some very big lessons unlearned here, Mr. Secretary. I lay that at your doorstep.

Rawlings Letter to TDHCA Re Clarendon Gateway by Jim Schutze

Greg Abbott Response to ICP Complaint by Jim Schutze

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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