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John Henneberger00:00

This is A Little Louder, a podcast for wonks, housers, and rabble rousers where we talk about fair housing, community development and how we can use these issues to build people power and work toward equity and justice. I'm John Henneberger with Texas Housers.

Today, we're looking into recent organized efforts in north Texas communities to force families with low incomes out. What's unusual is this is not the unorganized actions of a handful of bigoted individuals acting individually. But this is a coordinated effort by a homeowner's association.

Joining us today, are Texas Houser's advocacy director, David Wheaton, and the executive director of the legendary Dallas based fair housing organization, Inclusive Communities Project, Ann Lott. On behalf of David and me. Thanks for joining us, Ann.

Ann Lott00:58

Oh, thank you for having me.

John Henneberger01:01

Let's let's start with Denton County, which is a county, a little north of Dallas.

David would you set the scene for us about what's going on in Denton County?

David Wheaton01:12

Yeah, sure. So Providence Village is an UN incorporated, city in Denton County, Texas, and their HOA, their homeowners association enacted a new amendment recently that prohibited, the rental of Section 8 housing.

What that pretty much says is the, the new HOA amendment requires landlord who provide housing choice vouchers, to residents in Providence Village that, they have to either evict their tenants or face a $300 per week. fine that was effective immediately when the HOA passed, the amendment.

And so that's, what's happening, in Province Village in Denton county right now.

John Henneberger01:50

Ann, the Inclusive Communities Project is on the forefront of fair housing. You wanna talk a little bit about what ICP does and how you guys are viewing this situation that's come up with this homeowner's association in Denton County?

Ann Lott02:05

Sure. I'd be glad to. ICP, basically works with low income families who are using their housing vouchers to find housing, in the DFW area. If you don't provide families with this kind of assistance what we've seen historically is that they'll typically be limited to places and areas in the city of Dallas where the poverty rate is high and it's a high concentration of minority families.

And so what we wanna do is just provide those families, searching for housing, with opportunity to move anywhere in the DFW area that they desire. So the areas that we promote primarily are gonna be those areas where we see the poverty rate is low and believe the schools in the area are well resourced schools.

We believe that providing families with this kind of opportunity is, one of the primary ways that we can break the cycle of poverty for so many low-income children. We believe that's the core of our mission. And we think that there is enough research and empirical evidence that supports our mission.

The, the challenge that we see with places like Providence Village. And I just wanna back up and say that Providence Village was initially a master planned development. so they, they started with this master plan. They built out approximately 2,400 or so units of housing and then approximately 10 years after that they incorporated as a city. And so there's this strange intersection that we're seeing right now with this HOA where it's not clear if the HOA is acting, or if the town of Providence Village in the capacity as city officials are acting, but this new amendment. Basically will displace approximately 150 families who have vouchers and it's will do so immediately. Now, since the initial amendment they've basically backed up and they've kind of changed it a couple of times.

And so now what they're saying is, oh, I think everyone misunderstood. We will allow families to finish out their leases. But families, who currently don't have leases in force will have to vacate the premises by September. We believe this action targets families that are predominantly African-American and it has a disparate impact under the fair housing act.

John Henneberger04:39

Ann when you say it primarily targets, families who are African American. how do you figure that? How do you, how do you know that Section 8 tenants in the Denton County area are predominantly African-American?

Ann Lott04:52

Well, we have those statistics, quite frankly, the African American population in Providence, according to the latest census numbers is about 7%. 94. Percent of the households with vouchers in Providence Village are African American.

John Henneberger05:11

I recall looking at the Denton County housing authority. Section 8 ethnic composition and overwhelmingly most of the Denton County housing authority's, Section 8 residents are also African Americans,

It's not only the people living in Providence now, but it's the people on the list who would live any place in Denton county are predominantly African-American.

Ann Lott05:33

Absolutely same is true with the Dallas housing authority. 75, 80% of the families on their program are also African American.

John Henneberger05:43

I have to admit I've never been to Providence Village.

What is this? is this a middle class community? Is what, what does it look like? Can you help our listeners understand what we're talking about. This is not an, not a, an older inner city neighborhood. This is a new master planned community?

Ann Lott06:02

New master planned, community. I would call it a suburban community, very attractive, town.

You could look at the town and you could understand why people would wanna live in Providence Village. They have these beautiful Cape Cod houses that is just really appeals, to families with children, quite frankly, and the families who live out there who have vouchers really feel or felt fortunate to be able to find, housing in a location that provided them with the kind of opportunities that this, town provides them with.

If we look at the, demographics of the city, you would find that an overwhelming majority of the people that live there are white. non-Hispanic close to 75 or so percent of them are white, 17 or so percent are Hispanic. And as I said before, 7% are African American. Uh, the average median income is about $96,000 or so, so it's a pretty affluent, wealthy, suburban community, north of Dallas, Texas.

John Henneberger07:13

And the situation right now is that there are private property owners, private, individuals who own homes in this community who've decided that they're willing to rent under the Section 8 program to, however many it is folks out there.

This is not a, we're not talking about a program where the government is ordering Providence to make housing available to people we're talking about the private market has already made these homes available to people, and now the homeowners association's coming in after the fact and saying to the property owners, you may not continue to rent your home that you own to somebody on Section 8.

Am I understanding this right?

Ann Lott08:03

Unfortunately, you're understanding it correctly. And what makes it so problematic in the state of Texas is that as you know, John, there are no source of income protections. And so the, local government cannot impose any kind of law that basically forces property owners to take Section 8 vouchers.

And so when we find a landlord who will agree to accept a voucher, it's pretty rare. 97% of the landlords in the DFW metroplex will not accept a family with a voucher. And so now what this HOA is doing, what this town is doing is basically prohibiting a property owner, taking away their opportunity to rent the property to a family that participates on the Section 8 program.

To be clear, you can rent to a family who does not participate on the program, but you cannot rent to a voucher holder.

John Henneberger09:06

David, could you help us understand a little bit about what a homeowner's association is in Texas?

David Wheaton09:14

. Yeah, definitely. So a homeowner's association, is a kind of a group, a private group, that can dictate, and does have some power under state law to dictate, different factors within a neighborhood.

The HOA does have certain powers, when it comes to maintaining a household, maintaining the house, kind of what can go on outside of the house. They pay dues, things like that. and so they're more of a private organization that does have some control over what goes on in the neighborhood.

And there's supposed to be a kind of a collective group that comes in and talks about different things. and, and then, votes on, certain things when it comes to, the neighborhood. But it is a private, it's not a public entity.

John Henneberger09:53

What a homeowner's association orders people to do what it votes... the rules that it votes to establish are, are binding on everybody. Whether they agree with them or not. Am I right?

David Wheaton10:08

You are right. that is true. and in this case, Ann can probably talk to a little bit more than I can. There's been some questions on how that vote was, was processed for Providence Village, but you are right now once the HOA votes on it and if their bylaws do say that, that, that once it, you know, somebody votes on it, it does govern the whole, neighborhood, unfortunately. And can I, even, if you don't agree with the decision.

Ann Lott10:30

Can I also add that when we look at the history of these homeowners association, historically, they have been, gathered together.

They form the groups to basically determine who gets to live in the neighborhood, right. Can we all agree that that is basically the function of an HOA? We tend to, deal with it when they try to dictate what color we paint our house or what color we stain in our fence. I mean, this is just what we typically see with HOAs, but let us not forget that they are, were originally formed to determine who gets to live in a community and, by and large, right by and large, the earliest HOAs determined that if you are of African-American descent, you are not able to live in the community. I believe that some of the actions taken by this HOA has the same effect, right? As some of the earliest HOAs with prohibiting African American, from living in their community

John Henneberger11:37

. We talk about, the cumulative historical, discrimination, which has gone on. The Supreme Court of course, confronted the issue when cities tried to enforce racial zoning back in the early part of the last century and outlawed that, Then real estate interests and, subdividers of property moved on to work with, restrictive covenants.

And I guess, Ann that's kind of what you're alluding to is that, the homeowners association are in essence, continuing to impose what was imposed after racial zoning was outlawed. And we had a lot of restrictive covenants. In, I think it was in 1946 or 48, the Supreme Court said you couldn't put in place an explicitly, racial barrier to living in a neighborhood with a restrictive covenant. Prior to that it was really common.

And it was the main thing I think restrictive covenants did. Since then, fair housing advocates have pointed out that the operation of things like minimum lot size, minimum square footage, other activities that have been imposed either by cities, through zoning power or by associations of homeowners through their homeowners association have had the equivalent effect of denying people disproportionately based on race and ethnicity, the right to live in a, particular neighborhoods where these practices are going on. Is that a fair statement?

Ann Lott13:18

I, I do believe that's a fair statement.

John Henneberger13:22

So we, this happened, this homeowners association acted in the last 30 days or so, and, Ann you reached out to us and let us know about this.

And I know that ICP has been, active in trying to think about how this action should be brought to the attention of, the civil rights community and the justice department and others. What actions has ICP taken? Then I'm gonna ask you David, to follow up on that and talk about what work we've tried to do at Texas Housers and what other folks we've been talking to have been doing.

Ann Lott13:58

ICP is in a unique position here because ICP is not a property owner, nor a tenant. And so our primary role at this point has been to engage with the tenants who are directly affected by this amendment and the property owners who are directly affected, by the amendment. Several of the tenants which are directly affected, have expressed interest and are moving, we are helping them move forward to file, a complaint, a fair housing complaint, with HUD, the same is true of the property owners. There have been a number of property owners, individuals who have stepped forward and they too are moving forward to file a fair housing complaint with HUD.

We are working and ensuring that this information is made available to the Department of Justice. Now, of course, both, organizations, both HUD and the Department of Justice will have to review the information submitted to determine whether or not there is a violation of fair housing. And several of the, residents have also informed me that they have, filed a complaint, with the FBI.

Citing that they feel that they have been, victims of hate crimes. And I know that the Federal Bureau of Investigations is also investigating some of these, allegations.

John Henneberger15:23

David, what have we done on our end to try to bring this to the attention of law enforcement?

David Wheaton15:30

Yeah. Texas Housers also, wrote a letter to DOJ that was signed by the United way of Denton and Texas Homeless Network. And that went out to DOJ as well. Texas Housers has also talked to HUD about this as well, to make sure that the people in Washington DC, the HUD officials know about this. and making sure that they are monitoring this and kind of waiting for a, complaint to come through, but making sure that they're, at least the people in DC are monitors and the fair housing people are monitoring what's going on.

And then ultimately, Texas Housers is starting to do some research into this research into more HOAs. And then ultimately, during this next special session, Texas Housers is thinking about getting some type of legislation sponsored, that would make it so that HOAs do not have this power, to be able to do any type of source of income discrimination like this so that like you said private property owners who do wanna participate in the housing choice voucher program are allowed to, even if their HOA says they can't. So those are some of the things that Texas Housers is doing right now.

John Henneberger16:27

It strikes me as particularly inconsistent with what the legislature has done and wrongly so in, abrogating the ability of local governments to protect people's civil rights. based on renting a housing based on source of income. And that means that if you had a Section 8 voucher, a landlord, couldn't just turn you down just because you had a Section 8 voucher. The state of Texas is one of the only states in the nation to have actually done a reverse fair housing, a reverse civil rights, bill to prohibit cities from protecting people based on source of income. And the logic of that was that, well, there's no real logic to that. But what was articulated is the reason for doing that was that private property owners should not be told what to do with their property. And so here we have a homeowner's association coming in and basically saying to landlords who are already renting to people under this program, who've decided voluntarily to do it, that you may not rent your property to somebody because of this. And that is, as we know, directly related to the race or ethnicity of the person they're, they're renting to. So in essence, it's an abrogation of property rights that, the legislature followed back in the day when it dealt with source of income.

Ann Lott18:01

Let's talk about just the, the human component here. Let's talk about the human component. Let's talk about, HOA that has really acted arbitrary, capricious and reckless and reckless.

They, they initially gave these property owners, 30 days to evict over 150 families. Now, if you were a renter in the private market, this would no doubt be disruptive to you and your family, right? Because you have to go out, you'd have to find, housing pretty quickly. But if you are a family who relies on voucher rental assistance this kind of action is absolutely devastating. This kind of action will cause you to be homeless. So, with this HOA at the way that they amended their bylaws, the actions that they subsequently took is actually harmful is, cruel to put so many people on the streets within 30 ,days. Yes. They've since backed up they've since allowed the families, to at least stay, during the terms of their lease.

But it's, too, it's too late. It it's too late. We believe that this amendment violates, fair housing laws and they have a fight on their hands. David, John, they they're gonna have a fight on their hands. This needs to go away, right. A Section 8 renter needs to be treated like every other renter in the private market.

That is the very purpose and the very nature of the Section 8 voucher program is to give low income families access to housing in the private rental market. They are not gonna have that access when we have cities and we have, homeowners association that consistently deny them that access.

They've done it in Hartland. they've done it in Savannah. And now here we see them doing it in Providence Village. So I'm excited about, Texas Houser's game plan to address this with the Texas Legislature. I think that now is the time to get out ahead of this because we cannot see this pattern repeated in every town in Texas.

David Wheaton20:26

Yeah, that's our, our big thing. We don't want this to be repeated. We don't want other HOAs to get ideas on this, about this, and to continue this type of action. And I just wanna piggyback on what Ann said. I mean, we are talking about, you know, humans, we're talking about 150 families. We're talking about people who work and, you know, everybody wants the same thing.

They want good schools. They want, to be able to be safe in their neighborhoods, they want to be able to live in a decent, affordable home. And I think, they want the same thing as every other person America wants. Too many times we have HOAs in the state of Texas and other forces that try to separate and kind of look down on certain people.

And in certain, you know, low income tenants. And we have to kind of prop up this notion that they are the same as everybody else. They want the same things as every, everybody else they're hardworking Americans. And we have to treat them as hardworking Americans and not look down on them. And this is what that HOA did is just look down on them.

just because, they're, they're low income.

Ann Lott21:25

Right.

John Henneberger21:25

I think we also have to be aware of just how difficult it's going to be to get the legislature to act. I think they absolutely have to act, but we also have to be aware that there is a minority within the legislature who is, is virulently NIMBY at the least and racist in practice. There are members of the Texas legislature whose main campaign platform is to block any form of affordable housing from their district. They campaign on that and they get elected on that. We can't underestimate how powerful prejudice is in this state and how it has infected the body politic as well as the individual attitudes.

And I think we've seen that, I saw that when I watched the video of the homeowner's association meeting, where this was adopted, and as we've sat through hearings in the Texas legislature, we've also seen it. It's all couched in, in sanitized phrases, but it's all about exclusion. It's all about fear and it's all about prejudice, at the bottom line and the legislature's going to have to step up and actually do something for civil rights, for a change instead of just letting the federal government try to come in and work to intervene when it gets really off the rails, like it is in this case. Ultimately, our state does nothing for fair housing and the right of citizens of color to have equal treatment in the housing market. Technically it investigates and enforces the federal fair housing law, but practically speaking, it really doesn't do anything. And there's no state statutes that do anything really other than to permit discrimination. So there really has to be a strong, organized effort by the people of this state to say that we needed civil rights protected at the state and the local level and not just to have to rely totally on the federal government, given the way the courts are going. Given the way politics is, at the federal level right now, we can't afford to set back and just wait for the federal government to stop states, local governments, homeowners associations from engaging in discriminatory action.

We need, we need local enforcement.

David Wheaton24:05

And we plan on building a, a robust coalition of not just of low-income tenants, but also property owners. and try to get that message out to both Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature. Like you said, John, that they have to take civil rights and fair housing seriously, and that this is something that ultimately, really does have a impact on their residents, you know, and, and how they survive.

And, and so we really wanna make that point known to the, to the Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature.

John Henneberger (2)24:31

David, as you coordinate this effort and try to bring people together who are concerned about this to think about how to approach the legislature, starting in January, when they come back in session, how would people who are as concerned as we are about this, how would they, get involved?

David Wheaton24:47

They can go to our, our website, texashousing.org and, there's some links there. and, and please just reach out to us if you do have, if you would like to be a part of this effort, you would like to be part of this coalition. we would love. to have anybody in their ideas and have the people, you know, come up and show up.

We, we definitely plan on having robust action on this, as far as testimony. but we, we definitely wanna show up with a coalition of low income tenants, property owners and other, interested parties. to come to the legislature this session and, and really make our voices heard and, and make sure that our concerns are gonna be heard by the legislature.

Because like you said, this is ridiculous. This is just against everything that Texas should be, which is an inclusive community. and that's, that's what Texas should be.

John Henneberger25:33

Well, Ann, any final thoughts?

Ann Lott25:35

I guess the final thought, would be that we all need to as advocates continue, the work that, that we're doing. I think when you look at it, it really looks grim, but I don't know about you. I'm optimistic by nature so I believe that the work that we're doing to provide affordable housing to the Texas citizens is hugely important.

And it's, it's really important that we not get discouraged, in this fight, as we, just move to effect, change, at a policy level and also change at a practical level.

John Henneberger26:11

Amen.

ICP has shown us the way for many years in Dallas that opportunity in housing can happen for families and what a transformative improvement that is in people's lives.

So thanks for the work Ann of ICP and your continued advocacy on this. I know we'll be working with you in the months to come to deal with this immediate situation and also to try to deal with the problem systemically.

Ann Lott26:39

Thank you, John. Good to see you again, David.

John Henneberger26:44

Well, that's it for this edition of, A Little Louder.

We'll be back in two weeks with, another episode. Our friend JT Harechmak is going to take us out with our theme song.