Housing authority gets new foe in fight for funding

Concord Homes

A fight that has raged on for years between the Beaumont Housing Authority (BHA) and fair housing advocates over hurricane funding meant to replace public housing units on Concord Avenue continues to drag on, and now new opposition threatens to derail BHA’s plans for good.

While awaiting ultimate approval or denial of the proposed activity by a host of bureaucratic officials including the General Land Office (GLO), HUD, Public and Indian Housing and the Appleseed group, a new entity is making moves on the money BHA has vested time and resources in securing for the benefit of dozens of Beaumont families currently living in residences long in need of substantial repair. This week, the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission (SETRPC) announced its intentions to address reallocating the funding meant for BHA to projects in Jefferson, Hardin and Orange counties, a move that would either be the death knell for BHA’s plans or spur legal battles locally, statewide and nationally.

“It’s wrong,” BHA executive director Robert Reyna said of the constant battle to get 2008 Hurricane Ike funding long past due to the people of Beaumont – especially when other housing authorities such as Galveston have been granted permission to do exactly what BHA proposes to do. “We have tried to follow every law, every rule, every regulation.

“Either we all play by the same rules, or we don’t.”

BHA’s plans to rebuild public housing units damaged by Ike drew opposition from those in control of disbursing Ike funds to local entities, with opponents to the BHA plan stating that funding should not be spent to rebuild public housing units in an area that is classified as poverty-stricken and racially segregated (although it is at the same site where the housing unit currently sits). Instead, they say, it should be used to relocate public housing to other areas of the city. BHA argues that the neighborhood where Concord Homes is currently located is in need of revitalization, and funds should be spent to restore what has been damaged by Hurricane Ike – precisely what Reyna understands the funds to be earmarked for in the first place.

“Everybody and their dog wants to stay there,” Reyna said of the current residents’ desire to stay at the Concord Homes apartments once they are rebuilt. He also decries attempts by special interest groups to keep funding from flowing into areas in desperate need of revitalization just because the residents of that area happen to be of a particular race. “The very people Appleseed said they are championing their cause for, those are the ones who will hurt from all this. But, I guess at least they can say they won.”

Texas Appleseed works with a network of organizations in Texas and across the country, its website says, to ensure that all levels of government respond to natural disasters in a fair and timely manner, prioritize rebuilding and repair of affordable housing, and include hardest hit communities and low-income families in plans for long-term recovery.

Reyna said BHA submitted the original application with SETRPC, which then “reviewed it and obviously approved it, because they sent it to the GLO to approve.” From there, it has been a challenge to get the government to release the $12.5 million originally earmarked for the BHA project.

“We’ve got HUD departments fighting against each other. One will say one thing, another say another,” Reyna said. “It has been stuck in Washington since September. We have no idea what’s the hold up. If the plan was that (bad), it wouldn’t take them six months to deny it.”

With funding for the BHA project tied up in bureaucracy and court battles, Reyna said he was assured the funding would be available until all appeals have been exhausted.

“We have a letter from the GLO that says, ‘Do not worry, your funds are safe and are not subject to recapture,’” Reyna said. “The funds are there until expended.”

Which is why Reyna said it came as a surprise to him to learn that SETRPC was attempting to reallocate BHA’s funding.

“We were told the SETRPC was holding a planning commission meeting and one of the items was for (Director Shaun Davis) to give the board a written report proposing to recapture our money and reallocate it to single home projects throughout the region,” Reyna said. BHA attorneys immediately sent word to Davis and SETRPC board members that it would be unlawful for the agency to vote to move forward with plans to reallocate BHA Ike funding on the basis that the agency’s intentions were not clear in public announcement before a proposed vote in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

“Our concerns were many, in addition to losing the money,” Reyna said. According to him, there was misinformation being used to sell the idea that reallocation of BHA’s Ike funding was needed.

“(Davis) is saying if they don’t recapture BHA’s money, we are going to lose it for the region,” Reyna said. “That simply is not true.”

Reyna’s understanding is that the funding is available until expended. However, SETRPC has a contract to disburse Ike funding to local agencies like BHA that expires in December 2015. SETRPC has not filed for an extension of that contract.

At the Wednesday, Feb. 18, SETRPC board meeting, no motion was made to reallocate BHA’s Ike funding, but a recommendation was passed to discuss reallocating BHA’s funds. According to Davis, BHA has had three years to get their housing plan approved for construction, and it is unlikely to pass at this point. Davis advised his board that the process to reallocate the funds was lengthy and he was of the opinion it was better to start sooner rather than later.

Reyna said he will be happy when he receives word one way or the other as to the fate of BHA’s Ike funding.

“It is ridiculous how long and drawn-out this has been,” he said. “It’s absolutely crazy.”

 

Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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