HUD finds that Texas discriminated in awarding disaster relief

Top Photo: Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD). © flickr.com/photos/texasmilitaryforces/

The Department of Housing and Urban Development upheld a finding that the State of Texas discriminated against minority and low-income residents when awarding money to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey.

Advocates are pushing HUD to hold Texas accountable for making things right with the low-income communities that were denied assistance.

What is the complaint?

The discrimination complaint was filed by Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective. Texas Housers is a statewide affordable housing advocacy group. Northeast Action Collective represents residents in the predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods of Northeast Houston and Harris County. 

The groups charged the Texas General Land Office (GLO) with deliberately violating civil rights laws when awarding billions of dollars in Community Development Block Grant-Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds. The CDBG-MIT program helps individuals and communities rebuild and protect their properties against future natural disasters.

GLO was awarded $1 billion in the first funding round in May 2021. None of the money went to Harris County, Hidalgo County, or the cities of Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur. These areas were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey. 

These are also communities with large African-American and Hispanic populations. They have large numbers of low- and moderate-income renters, and are home to 56% of the total population impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

The complaint said that GLO’s funding criteria had a discriminatory effect. The funding plan directed up to half the funding to areas with the least hurricane damage. GLO’s application process kept most of the first round of funding from reaching the poorest, hardest hit urban areas. Instead, inland areas that had limited damage from Harvey and very few low- and moderate-income households received substantial awards. 

Here are some examples of how GLO’s process kept disaster funds from helping low-income, African-American, and Hispanic renters:

  • There were preferences for helping homeowners rebuild, but nothing similar to prioritize rebuilt housing for renters with the lowest incomes. In the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, 55% of Black households and 46% of Hispanic households rent, compared with 27% of white households. 
  • Applications were capped at a maximum of $100 million, which made it hard for large jurisdictions to apply for what they needed to rebuild rental housing. The urban areas also had higher proportions of renters, a disadvantage when the application had priorities for assisting homeowners.
  • GLO also relied on a flawed needs assessment that downplayed the housing needs of persons of color and low- and moderate income households. This had the effect of denying benefits to the populations that are supposed to receive priority in federal disaster recovery programs.

What did HUD decide?

The original finding of discrimination was made by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. After objections from Texas, HUD conducted a review of OFHEO’s determination. HUD upheld the findings that GLO violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act.

Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funds or other federal financial assistance. Section 109 has the same ban on discrimination specifically for HUD housing and community development programs.

HUD has not yet leveled any penalties against GLO. Texas Housers and national advocates have called on GLO to enter into a Voluntary Consent Agreement (VCA) with HUD within 60 days. The VCA would spell out how GLO will remedy the effects of its discriminatory funding practices. 

The VCA would likely require getting funds to those people and communities excluded earlier. It would also likely require GLO to redo its need assessments and revise the application process so that it is more equitable.

If a VCA is not reached within 60 days, advocates are calling on HUD to refer the matter to the Department of Justice and withhold funding from the state until the discriminatory practices are addressed. This would be a drastic step that would impact communities across the state who rely on these funds for their affordable housing and community development needs. 

What does the Texas finding mean for other places?

Decades of discrimination and disinvestment have left minority and low-income communities more vulnerable to disasters. HUD’s finding in the Texas case should put other states on notice. 

There can be no discrimination when it comes time to rebuild after a disaster. 

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