David Wheaton00:01

I am David Wheaton advocacy, director of Texas Housers. We are Texas nonprofit organization that supports low income Texans efforts to have a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood.

On June 8th, 2021, Texas Housers and the Houston base Northeast Action Collective filed a civil rights complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging the Texas General Land Office unlawfully discriminated against Texans based on their race and national origin in awarding funds under a $4 billion federal grant. The Community Development Block Grant, Hurricane Harvey Mitigation Funds, also known as CDBG MIT, were established by Congress to provide funds to mitigate the impact of future natural disasters in Texas.

On June 25th, 2021, HUD initiated an investigation into our complaint. Last Friday, March 4th, after an eight month investigation, HUD issued a ruling sustaining our allegations of racial discrimination by the State of Texas General Land Office and directing the GLO to remedy its unlawful actions.

Copies of our original complaint and HUD's ruling can be found on the Texas Housers' website at www.texashousers.org

HUD concluded. and I quote, "The Department finds that the design and operation of the Competition discriminated on the basis of race and national origin. GLO utilized two scoring criteria that substantially and predictably disadvantaged, minority residents, with particular disparate impact for Black residents." End quote.

HUD, found that the criteria the GLO used to award funds, and once again, I quote, "...caused applicants that would disproportionately benefit minority residents to receive fewer points than other applicants for projects that would benefit an equivalent number of residents. This caused funding to be awarded in a manner that disproportionately benefited white residents." End quote.

The State's policies used to award funds, quoting HUD, "...had an unjustifiably discriminatory effect and GLO failed to comply with HUD's regulation that prohibits a recipient from utiliz[ing] criteria... which ha[d] the effect of subjecting persons to discrimination." End quote.

In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, CDBG MIT funds were appropriated by Congress and made available to the governor of Texas to fund projects to mitigate the harm that could be caused by future natural disasters, such as hurricanes. The Texas governor designated the State of Texas General Land Office to administer the program.

In 2020, Texas Housers publicly raised objections to aspects of GLO's initial proposed plan for administering the program. After GLO announced the allocation plan in 2021, we objected again, pointing to clear discriminatory criteria in the scoring process. When the GLO disclosed his final funding awards, we formally and in writing objected to GLO's plan a third time. All of our pleas fell on deaf ears however. The GLO never acted on our repeated written complaints nor made any effort to discuss with us the serious civil rights issues we raised.

In 2021, it became widely apparent to Texans that something was seriously wrong with the GLO's administration of Hurricane Harvey mitigation funds when the GLO disclosed that Houston, Port Arthur, Beaumont and Corpus Christi were being denied any funding for disaster mitigation. HUD observed and I quote, "The results of the competition announced in May, 2021 were shocking to many community members. Local leaders described the competition, design and outcomes as unfathomable, outrageous, bewildering, problematic and flawed. Local leaders noted that the competition design was particularly unfair and contrary to the intended focus on disaster risk and low- and moderate- income residents."

When HUD launched his investigation and asked for records, the GLO sought to divert attention by falsely ascribing political motivations to the HUD investigation. This illustrates the contempt that the General Land Office has shown towards complying with bedrock civil rights law.

In order to prevent the loss of federal funds, the GLO must now adopt a program to cure this racial discrimination. The GLO may enter into a voluntary compliance agreement to remedy the discrimination, quoting HUD, "... with a clear timetable for implementation" end quote. Tragically, yet predictably the GLO's decision that violated civil rights laws delayed the award of badly needed funds to areas of our state at risk of future disaster. This delay is the sole fault of the GLO.

Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective have already provided HUD, at that agency's request, a list of actions the GLO should take to remedy the discrimination, HUD notes, and I quote, "a VCA resolving this matter would require the GLO to address the discriminatory outcomes of the competition as well as adopt enhanced fair housing planning and monitoring metrics."

HUD's March 4th ruling informed the GLO that a failure to enter into a VCA may result in federal administrative actions, such as loss of the federal funds and legal enforcement action by the Department of Justice.

The GLO's discriminatory acts against Texans of color are part of an ongoing pattern by the government of the State of Texas in the administration of federal disaster relief funds stretching back all the way to 2010.

In May, 2010, following a federal investigation of an earlier complaint made by Texas' Housers and Texas Appleseed of racial discrimination in the State of Texas' administration of federal funds for disaster rebuilding, following hurricanes Ike and Dolly, HUD withheld funding, and the State entered into a voluntary conciliation to end those discriminatory practices.

Today, once again, an investigation by the federal government has found ongoing racial discrimination in the State's administration of federal disaster assistance.

Let's be clear, what the federal government found is that the practices of the General Land Office unlawfully excluded vast numbers of Texans of color on the basis of their race from the benefit of federal funds the State administers for disaster assistance.

Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective of Houston believe that for our state government to repeatedly discriminate against its citizens on the basis of their race is not only unlawful and morally reprehensible, but it is un-Texan.

My colleague, Julio Orduña will conclude our statement.