As the Beaumont Housing Authority (BHA) struggles against relocating the Concord Homes public housing complex — fair housing advocates oppose rebuilding in the current location — the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sent officials to tour local facilities and to meet the players on both sides of the debate.
BHA met with recently appointed Region 6 administrator Tammye Trevino from the HUD Fort Worth Regional Office on Tuesday, Oct. 29, to make its case against the potentially costly relocation after BHA supporters petitioned fair housing advocates to reconsider their opposition to Beaumont being awarded $12 million in Hurricane Ike Round 2.2 funds to replace dilapidated and storm-ravaged housing units in the city’s north end. The advocates declared their position in a letter earlier this summer stating that BHA’s plans did not “affirmatively further fair housing,” a term BHA executive director Robert Reyna calls indefinable. Advocates for BHA have since penned their own letter in support of the efforts of the local housing authority with support from federal and state elected leaders, the leader of the local NAACP, city of Beaumont leaders, and private stakeholders.
Trevino, who was also visiting PAHA later that day, toured public housing units in Beaumont prior to her meeting with local BHA representatives, city officials and concerned citizens. She praised the construction of the newer sites, and agreed that Concord Homes is in desperate need of repairs. However, she said the purpose of her visit was to collect information and get familiar with people on both sides of the hotly contested issue while explaining to BHA and supporters the legalities of affirmatively furthering fair housing.
“I am here today not to say here’s what you can do and what you can’t do,” Trevino asserted. “I don’t see that as my role. I see my role as bringing people to the table so that everybody has a voice, and moving the process along, and just trying to be helpful. I’ve always thought that facilitation and coordination is a big part of what we do, and then communication.”
At the meeting, BHA chairman Doug Landry told Trevino the 55-year-old unit at Concord Homes has “seen better days” and is in desperate need of repairs from Hurricanes Rita and Ike.
“Buildings, as they tend to over the years, deteriorate,” Landry said. “It’s seen three hurricanes; several tropical storms have come through over the past 14 years that have taken their toll. As we know, when wood gets wet, it had problems forever, basically. BHA owns a piece of property that is seven and a half acres, more or less, that can take the footprint of the 100 units that we will be replacing. Does BHA have other property currently that’s vacant? No.”
He corrected himself by allowing that BHA does possess several single-family dwellings throughout Beaumont, but residents of Concord Homes would then be spread out far and wide all across Beaumont.
Audwin Samuel, Beaumont city councilman for Ward 3 where Concord Homes is located, said his stand against relocation was not based on finances. He said he does not want to see an established community forcefully torn apart.
“Fiscally I think it would make sense to restore the properties there or put the properties there,” Samuel began. “But more importantly, I come from that neighborhood. I’ve been in Beaumont since 1964, and I had cousins that lived in those properties when it was the older part, which is no longer there. … You are dealing with a community that has a rich history and a lot of pride. Now, the city of Beaumont has worked very hard to prevent that community from dying. As the Ward 3 representative, my ward has probably the older properties in the city. … I understand your philosophy, trying to move, trying to integrate into other areas, but we have residents that want to be there. We have residents that want to see that area grow.”
Samuel went on to point out several steps the city and partners have taken to improve the area and to encourage positive growth there. He mentioned numerous infrastructure improvement projects the city has planned or implemented and called out to Trevino for HUD’s understanding and assistance.
“We have made empowerment zones along Concord Road so that we can encourage businesses to develop along that corridor,” he said. “We have worked with the school district to continue to allow those schools to remain and put new schools in the area that would contribute toward the growth. We have various partners working together to do that. Beaumont Housing has done a great job of that. … So, all of those things coming together, we totally support the program, the project, and the goals of that project because we believe that will be a key component to not letting that community die. Help us in our efforts to bring life, vigor, commercial development, along with residential development in that area.”
City of Beaumont Community Development Director Chris Boone said transportation was a big strike against the move BHA representatives and city officials agree would likely be to Beaumont’s West End neighborhood, and he echoed some of Samuel’s comments.
“There’s a good chunk of the city that does not have access to public transportation,” Boone explained. “Geographically, Beaumont is not a huge area. So, if you look at this area, as councilman Samuel mentioned, we have employers in this immediate area. We have empowerment zones that are attracting some commercial development. And so, there is access to employment. There is access to public education and public transportation. So, a lot of the parts and pieces that you need to kind of get ahead are in this area that may be more difficult in a different part of the city. But having said that, I understand and appreciate where the idea for the law came from, but I think there are some unintended consequences, and I think in examples like this there must be an exception.”
Local NAACP leader and president of the 100 Black Men of Greater Beaumont Paul Jones said he represents residents of Concord Homes against the move to an area where they are “not wanted.”
“Your philosophy of, ‘Oh, we’re going to move it and maybe something will rub off on people and they’ll do something different,’ that doesn’t work in Beaumont,” said Jones. “You are adding additional stress and pressure on families. I read the line items of economic advantages, transportation (etc.). They don’t exist. Where is the economic development? It’s not there (on the west end). You are not giving these families an upgrade or doing anything other than meeting the letter of the law, and I think, and I’m not knocking the law, but the law is wrong sometimes. We’ve had laws on the books many times that were wrong.”
“I think the opportunity is right where they are because of the development,” Samuel added, who said he has been on Beaumont City Council for 23 years and went to school in the neighborhood surrounding Concord Homes.
Sharon Siverand lives in Concord Homes and said she does not want to move.
“My child would suffer from a move,” Siverand told the group. “If you move them somewhere they are not happy, their performance in school drops. My daughter is very comfortable in going right down the street at Central in the medical magnet program. Her GPA is a 3.0. My son is now at Lamar and is doing well. This is what they know. As a matter of fact, after the last meeting we had, my daughter and I took a walk. It was peaceful. We could walk without anyone bothering us.”
Siverand said she fears the forced move would have dire consequences and split her close-knit community.
“To move somewhere where we are not comfortable, we are not going to comfortable,” she explained. “Like I said, my main concern is the kids and their education. … We work hard to get them everything they need. It works. … I can actually depend on my neighborhood, my church family. I mean, anything we need, they help.”
Boone added that the only other property that could potentially be utilized to completely rebuild the 100-unit complex is off Major Drive, where the residents would be isolated and, again, have no access to public transportation.
Trevino asked Boone about the geographic distribution of the city’s investment.
“Our city does a very good job equitably distributing city funds across the board,” Boone said. “We probably spend a little bit more on the eastern side (near the current Concord Homes site).”
Samuel added, “I would be willing to say that over 35 percent of the city’s public funds for infrastructure is going to Ward 3. If that is the case, I would say at least 60 percent of the monies in Ward 3 would go toward that area (of Concord Homes).”
“That’s huge,” Trevino remarked.
She said that laws regarding fair housing were in place to protect disadvantaged and low-income families from being forced to live in the poorest areas where no opportunity exists, and HUD has to operate within the law. She agreed that Beaumont’s attempt to revitalize the area was definitely an advantage in the city’s argument against relocating Concord Homes, but BHA would have a rough road ahead trying to prove the move would be detrimental in the long run.
“I am from the outside looking in and I see all public housing is concentrated in the same area in the city,” Trevino said. “I am not saying that is a bad thing, but historically, in other communities, it has not been a good thing. So, you are, as you said, one of these communities where the rule doesn’t make sense to you, and you want to be the exception to the rule. As you know, being an exception to the rule takes a lot of documentation as to why you are that exception. The fact that you invest in that area whole-heartedly, at a large degree, it speaks very well to your commitment to bettering the community and bettering the neighborhood.”
She suggested that if Beaumont invested more heavily in other areas, there could be similar opportunities for low-income residents. She said she would like to see other options and get the reactions of public housing residents who are presented with alternate options.
If you build a brand new housing project elsewhere in the city, Concord Homes residents might want to go there. “But there is no second choice yet,” she said.
Reyna said there is just not enough money to completely relocate an entire community.
Trevino said she understood the concerns and would make note of the points made. She said she had yet to meet with fair housing advocates, so she would have to listen to their side, as well. She reiterated she was not there to make a final determination.
Trevino said, “In the end, when the decision is made, understand that HUD has rules and regulations that they are going to follow. There are always exceptions to the rule when it is just a rule. When it comes to the law, going against statutes, that is against the law. I could go to jail. The decision that is going to be made is a decision that is not against the law and is within the rules.”
Trevino said the law seems to lean toward the fair housing advocates. She said BHA has a chance, but the law is what it is and must be followed.
“So, I hope for the best,” Trevino said.
And only HUD will decide what that means.