A first-of-its-kind civil rights, fair housing and environmental justice agreement has been reached in Corpus Christi, Texas, in response to decades of mistreatment of a historic African-American neighborhood. The agreement is a major victory for local residents with national ramifications about racial segregation, transportation, concentrated housing, the discrimination of pollution and more.
Residents of a historically segregated African-American community filed a Title VI civil rights complaint with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) over the disparate racial impact of a proposed state highway project that will cut through Corpus Christi’s Northside. Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), and with support from the Environmental Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, residents have successfully secured a mitigation and relocation plan worth tens of millions of dollars to address the impact of the new highway and the historic levels of discrimination, isolation and pollution in the area, and to provide mobility options for Northside families.
At a press conference on December 18, residents described the impact of the agreement alongside TRLA’s lead attorney on the complaint, Erin Gaines, and Dr. Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University known as “the father of environmental justice”:
During the era of redlining and Jim Crow segregation, the Northside neighborhoods of Hillcrest and Washington-Coles were the only areas in Corpus Christi where African-American residents were allowed to live. At the same time, the growth of refineries, chemical plants and other heavy industry to the neighborhood’s west, the Port of Corpus Christi to the north and Interstate 37 to the south isolated the community from the rest of the city. The new highway proposal from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would create a barrier to the east, sealing off the neighborhood, further isolating residents from schools and services and increasing the already-dangerous levels of pollution present on the Northside.
The FHWA Office of Civil Rights, working with the U.S. Department of Justice, responded to the complaint and reached a mitigation agreement with TxDOT, signed on December 17. The historic agreement is the first federal transportation relocation settlement related to civil rights and not to a right-of-way issue. TxDOT also signed a subsidiary agreement with the City of Corpus Christi, the Port Authority and the Corpus Christi Housing Authority to support the implementation of the larger agreement.
The mitigation options include:
– A voluntary relocation program for all Northside homeowners and renters – more than 500 households. Residents who choose to move will be provided with the assistance necessary to find a comparable home in a healthy environment and high opportunity neighborhood, including:
– Relocation counseling;
– For homeowners, moving costs, title and closing costs, the appraised value of the original home and the difference between that and the appraised value of the comparable home; and
– For eligible renters, moving costs and the difference in rental costs for the next 42 months if the new home has higher rent;
– Financial assistance for neighborhood churches, small businesses and owners of rental properties that choose to relocate;
– A designated four-year City liaison position to provide residents with information on their options and connections to services such as weatherization and home improvement programs;
– The relocation of 122 households from the D.N. Leathers public housing complex to one or more new developments built by the Corpus Christi Housing Authority in high opportunity areas;
– Improvements to Dr. H.J. Williams Memorial Park in Hillcrest and a new historic park in Washington Coles, with input from a community advisory board; and
– Mitigation of highway construction impacts including noise, dust, air pollutants, and traffic.
Texas Low Income Housing Information Service is proud to stand with Northside residents and will continue to work with them to monitor the implementation and enforcement of this agreement (read more about the reaction of residents here). More information on the agreement, the relocation process and the development of housing solutions is forthcoming – check back here for updates in the near future.
To learn more about the Northside, watch our short documentary featuring interviews with longtime residents and advocates: