We noted yesterday the United States Department of Justice brought suit alleging the City of New Berlin, Wisconsin had violated the Fair Housing Act by denying a developer permission to build a mixed senior, family development financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
I just read the Justice Department’s compliant in the case. The same conditions are widespread in Texas.
The facts in the New Berlin case read like a minor variant of a story many of us have watched unfold in Texas. It goes like this: developer applies for minor waivers and permits, city initially grants permission to proceed, newspaper reports low-income housing is proposed to be built, angry citizens organize, threats and intimidation ensue against elected officials, elected officials get scared and backtrack, permits withdrawn.
Katy, McKinney, Dallas, Houston, — dozens of Texas cities have seen similar scenarios repeatedly play out.
What’s different in the New Berlin case is the US Department of Justice has stepped in to force the community officials there to abide by the Fair Housing Act and allow the LIHTC development to proceed.
The federal government acted because local elected leaders could not, or would not, stand up to local citizens behaving like an irrational, hate-filled mob. That mob forced their elected leaders to violate the Civil Rights of African-Americans.
The facts in the New Berlin case made this a no brainer for the Justice Department. There was plenty of evidence that the local officials reacted because of the racial prejudices of their citizens, organized in opposition to the project. The mayor wrote to a friend in an email cited in the complaint…
Our city is filled with prejudiced and bigoted people who with very little facts are making this project into something evil and degrading…
But even without these admissions, the statements of the citizens opposed to the housing are sufficiently damning to convince any fair-minded person that this case is about white people fighting a housing development that will bring African-American families into their community.
The Justice Department complaint details the appalling statements of white citizens…
… city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the May 3 approval and the MSP [housing] project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race. The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced “niggers,” “white flight,” “crime,” “drugs,” “gangs,” “families with 10 or 15 kids,” of needing “to get a gun,” of “slums,” of not wanting New Berlin to turn into “Milwaukee,” of moving to New Berlin “to get away from the poor people,” of not wanting to provide housing to people “who work but do not live here.”
A citizens group launched a recall effort against the mayor who had voted for the project. In the face of this, the mayor and city council caved in to racism and bigotry and voted to resend permission for the project.
Outrageous? Of course it is.
But before becoming self-righteous in our indignation we need to acknowledge that this same thing is happening today right here in Texas. And no one in Texas is pushing back on our home-grown bigotry.
A group of people in Galveston are engaged in a campaign to block the rebuilding of homes of public housing residents destroyed by Hurricane Ike. While this group of white Galveston residents demands government funds for the rebuilding of “their ” community, they are organizing to make sure that lower-income and especially, lower-income African-Americans cannot move back home to Galveston.
This is ethnic cleansing pure and simple.
Repeated public expressions of racism, paranoia and hatred are vented daily on the internet, in the Galveston newspaper and at Galveston City Council meetings. Now a recall effort of the mayor of Galveston has begun. The mayor supports the rebuilding of the housing.
It sounds just like New Berlin, WI.
Prejudice, paranoia and hatred are an individual sickness that corrupts the soul of those who are infected. When the press, religious leaders, political leaders and good citizens don’t confront people who have this sickness it can spread to become an epidemic, crippling and corrupting an entire community.
That’s what happened in New Berlin, Wisconsin. That’s what could happen in Galveston, Texas.