GALVESTON — The single plaintiff remaining in the lawsuit over construction of mixed-income housing in the city will have to clear a high hurdle in order for the case to continue, a federal court judge said Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregg Costa told attorney Shari Goldsberry that she would be allowed to present an argument to the court about whether the plans for a housing development in Galveston would harm her client, Galveston resident Trysha McCardell, by increasing segregation in the neighborhood where McCardell currently lives.
Last week, Costa dismissed claims made by a handful of other plaintiffs that the housing developments would harm them as potential future residents of the housing developments, saying they did not have standing to show that actual harm would occur to them if the housing developments were built.
McCardell may have standing, however, because she lives within 10 blocks of the site of the Cedar Terrace development, which her lawyers argue would be segregated by the construction of the housing developments. The Galveston Housing Authority’s plans call for the new mixed-income housing to be built on the sites of public housing that were torn down after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Costa told Goldsberry the burden would be hers to prove that motivations behind rebuilding on those locations are intentionally discriminatory.
“Isn’t it motivated by the fact that was where the prior locations were and there’s a desire from people who used to live there to go back to that location,” Costa said. “It might be dumb, but you have to prove that it’s racist.”
Goldsberry told Costa she intended to prove the government agencies involved do not care about segregating the city with the housing development.
“These defendants have all been educated thoroughly on the effect that this plan would have on the city,” Goldsberry said. “We’re telling them what’s going to happen. They know what’s going to happen, and they’re just going to move forward.”
An attorney representing the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs argued the complaint failed to consider the full extent of housing plans for the island.
“This one plaintiff is halting the entire construction because of about 35 to 40 units, and that’s what we’re talking about here,” attorney Nancy Juren said.
Housing plans made after Hurricane Ike called for 569 public housing units to be rebuilt on the island, about 140 of which were to be located in the mixed-income housing developments. The developments also are planned with an almost equal number of market-rate apartments.
Tuesday was the first time since the lawsuit was filed in December a meeting was held in open court. The hearing was attended by lawyers representing the city, state and federal government and the Galveston Housing Authority. A handful of advocates, from both sides of the housing debate, were also present for the 40-minute hearing.
During the hearing, Costa noted the proceedings had already been protracted by the number of filings made by the Open Government Project’s lawyers and said he would not be inclined to permit future changes to the legal arguments being made about the construction of housing.
“Given both sides are saying there is an urgency to this case, for different reasons, I really want to get that set and get this moving,” Costa said.
A lawyer for the Galveston Housing Authority said that construction of the developments is not moving forward because the lawsuit had blocked the authority’s ability to apply for low-income tax credits from the state. The Galveston Open Government Project has requested that an injunction be filed to block any construction while the lawsuit is in court.
Costa set a hearing date for the request for June 10, but indicated he would make more rulings before then.
In particular, Costa said the state defendants — the General Land Office and Department of Housing and Community Affairs — could be dismissed on 11th Amendment grounds. The 11th Amendment grants sovereign immunity to states and generally protects agencies from lawsuits except in certain specific cases.
“I’ve looked at the law on the 11th Amendment, I think it’s fairly straight forward,” Costa said.
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.