HUD’s rules are intended to protect tenants in need. At Coppertree, tenants had to fight the department to seek justice.

This blog is the second entry in a three part series chronicling the efforts and struggles of residents attempting to improve their living conditions in Section 8 housing at Houston’s Coppertree Village Apartments. Part two explores the legal process that tenants at Coppertree Village have explored. You can read part one here.

In any power dynamic such as what has already been described at Coppertree Village, specifically between low-income households and property owners, there must be an equalizer. For those who live in subsidized housing, a reliable way to report and speak through what they are living through must be a viable and reliable option.

Families in Project-Based Section 8 housing can face multiple challenges beyond the physical health and structural issues caused by housing conditions. They also can experience a fear of crime within their communities. These concerns can be attributed to factors such as the concentration of poverty commonly found with low-income housing, limited housing options in general, and insufficient social support available to low-income communities such as access to healthcare, high quality food, or job opportunities.

It is difficult to put into words the sheer horror and despair that I have personally witnessed among the residents of project-based housing, including Coppertree. I have seen bloodstains on the pavement outside of homes, the aftermath of violent crimes that often go unsolved. I have heard young children speak of these tragic events, their innocence shattered by the harsh realities of their surroundings, gathering where lifeless bodies were discovered earlier that very morning.

These brief narratives fall short in conveying the magnitude of anguish, terror, and suffering that these individuals and families must endure. The piercing cries and harrowing screams that accompany the sound of gunshots reverberating within the walls of their homes remain raw in their memory. Moreover, the anxiety-ridden expressions on their faces as they recount their inability to sleep due to faulty repairs following a break-in or the perpetual lack of sleep resulting from bedbugs and infestations are the results of an unacceptable reality for far too many.

These glimpses into their daily lives are only a fraction of the trauma and hardship that they endure. It is clear that urgent action is needed to address the systemic issues that perpetuate these injustices, so tenants do not feel helpless. These descriptions only scratch the surface of the living conditions for those who occupy project-based housing in such conditions and why tenant voices must be a focus in any “renovation” efforts.


Aside from reporting these conditions through the conventional means, tenants at Coppertree have also explored legal action to remedy their housing issues. The tenants of Coppertree filed a complaint in August 2018 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. In their complaint, the tenants requested tenant protection vouchers and relocation assistance, as their living conditions met the requirements outlined in the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Specifically, the requirements included being Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) tenants, having the owner receive a Notice of Default, and experiencing imminent health and safety risks.

Two HUD inspections conducted in June and September 2018 revealed significant issues in many of Coppertree’s rental units and common areas. These problems included cockroach and spider infestations, leaky roofs causing mold growth, malfunctioning locks, and missing or nonfunctional smoke detectors. HUD issued two Notices of Default (NOD) to Coppertree’s owner, instructing them to address the problems or face potential consequences. Coppertree’s owner submitted a property survey and began making repairs, but there is disagreement about whether the issues have been fully resolved.

Tenants criticized HUD’s decision to maintain the housing assistance payment (HAP) contract with Coppertree and focus on correcting the identified deficiencies. They argued that HUD should have provided assistance for relocation, such as vouchers to help them move elsewhere, due to Coppertree’s ongoing state of disrepair. Tenants alleged that HUD’s failure to issue vouchers was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). 

They also claimed that HUD’s inaction constituted race-based discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection component, citing an unequal treatment of Black PBRA tenants compared to their White counterparts residing in majority White PBRAs.  Tenants argued that HUD’s actions were motivated by maintaining racial segregation and disadvantaging minority households, contrasting the situation with other Section 8 properties in Houston.

This sparked a legal back and forth between HUD and the tenants, with the department filing a motion to dismiss the tenants’ claims in December 2018, and the district court granting HUD’s motion and dismissing the tenants’ claims. This would cause an amendment to the complaint being filed by the tenants, with the residents engaged in extensive fact-finding against the owner, including hiring experts to examine the units and buildings, as well as a mold expert. They also reviewed crime records in the area and found evidence of increased crime during the prolonged period in which tenants were waiting for relief in the form of a tenant protection voucher.

In response to this lawsuit, HUD filed a Motion to Dismiss in March 2019, asserting that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case and that the tenants had failed to state a claim that could provide relief. Ultimately, in March 2020, the District Court dismissed the tenants’ initial complaint, The tenants then filed a Notice of Appeal in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. After briefing was completed, oral arguments were heard in March 2021.

The Fifth Circuit rendered a decision in favor of the tenants, a major legal victory, finding that the district court had jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act to review HUD’s decision to deny relocation assistance to tenants. However, in January 2022, HUD filed a Petition for Rehearing and the tenants filed an opposition and three months later, the Fifth Circuit denied HUD’s Request for Rehearing but reversed its favorable decision for the tenants. The three-judge panel found that there was no jurisdiction for the Court to review tenants’ claims for relocation assistance. 

In August 2022, Lone Star Legal Aid filed a petition for writ of certiorari on behalf of some Coppertree tenants before the US Supreme Court to request review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision. But, ultimately, the US Supreme Court denied the petition.

While this was a seen as a time for the tenants to regroup, a new owner at Coppertree would cause the residents to shift their strategy yet again.

Next, part three, the final entry in this series, details how new ownership has come into the picture at Coppertree Village, yet similar patterns are emerging. And how tenants intend to stop this before it begins.

This post has been edited for clarity with regard to the legal filingt timeline between HUD and Coppertree tenants.

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