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The fight that keeps on backfiring - The Galveston County Daily News : Editorials

November 27, 2014

The fight that keeps on backfiring

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Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014 12:00 am

If you’re confused about the Texas General Land Office’s position on the lawsuit aimed at blocking the construction of public housing in Galveston, here are the key points:

• An agreement, blessed by a federal court, calls for the reconstruction of 529 public housing units destroyed by Hurricane Ike. The agreement calls for about 145 units to be built in mixed-income developments. A group called the Galveston Open Government Project has challenged those developments in court.

• The rest of those 529 units — 384 or so — would be built on scattered sites.

• If the Galveston Open Government Project prevails in its efforts to block the construction of the mixed-income units, the fallback position would be to rebuild all 529 of the units on scattered sites throughout Galveston.

• The scattered sites cannot be in high-minority or high-poverty areas.

All that was included in an affidavit filed in the lawsuit by Jorge Ramirez, senior director of the General Land Office’s Disaster Recovery Division.

If you think he’s kidding, keep in mind that Texas has something like $3.1 billion in federal aid riding on this case.

Ramirez stated in the affidavit that delays caused by this lawsuit have already cost about $3 million. On top of that, further delays are costing $145,000 to $225,000 a month.

The Galveston Open Government Project is a private organization and can sue anyone it likes, including the federal and state governments.

But, most members of the current City Council were elected because they campaigned against the mixed-income developments. Some Council members seem to support this lawsuit, even at this late date.

It should be clear by now what a disaster this fight has been.

Does Galveston even have 529 blocks, neighborhoods or areas that are not “high-minority” and not “high-poverty”?

If not, does that mean some affluent areas will get two or three public housing units on scattered sites?

The last person to hold the title of permanent executive director of the Galveston Housing Authority, Stanley Lowe, argued against scattered sites.

He said housing authorities shouldn’t build on scattered sites for the same reason companies that operate apartment complexes don’t build apartments on scattered sites.

Scattered sites increase costs. Sooner or later, the money to repair them runs low.

As Lowe pointed out, that doesn’t benefit the poor people who need decent housing.

It also doesn’t benefit the neighbors who have to live next to properties that aren’t well-maintained.

Lowe argued that Galveston should put more — not fewer — units of public housing into mixed-income developments.

Few people bothered to listen.

This is what this lawsuit to block the mixed-income developments boils down to: If you believe this fight is worthwhile, you have to believe Galveston would be better off with 529 public housing units scattered throughout the island.

It’s nonsense.