GALVESTON — Should it stay or should it go?
Lawyers on the opposing sides of a lawsuit over construction of mixed-income housing made arguments in filings Monday about whether the case should be dismissed or whether the court should order the Galveston Housing Authority to put a hold on any construction until the litigation is settled.
The arguments were made in a batch of briefs filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
On Feb. 17, the Galveston Open Government project asked Judge Gregg Costa to issue an injunction that would halt the construction of any public housing until the lawsuit was settled. The group claims that if two mixed-income developments proposed for the sites of former Cedar Terrace and Magnolia Homes public housing projects are not stopped now, the damage done to Galveston will remain for generations to come.
In a motion Monday, the Galveston Housing Authority accused the Open Government Project of being too narrow in its analysis of plans for public housing in Galveston.
“In essence, the Plaintiffs are arguing that the entire island of Galveston has contamination, high crimes, inferior schools, minimum job opportunities, little recreational activities and poor health care opportunities,” wrote authority lawyer Carla Cotropia. “This makes no common sense, ignores UTMB medical and condemns the entire island of Galveston as being a harmful place to live.”
Of the 282 housing units planned to be built at Cedar Terrace and Magnolia Homes, 113 will be public housing and 31 will be set aside for housing choice voucher participants. Redevelopment plans for Galveston’s housing include another 388 scattered site units that have not yet been determined.
In an affidavit attached to the brief, Deyna Sims-Hobdy, the authority’s director of real estate and development, said a study to determine where scattered sites will be built could be completed by the end of July.
Similar motions against the injunction were filed by lawyers from the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The defendants in the case have all challenged the Open Government Project’s legal standing to sue over the project and the ability of the individual plaintiffs to claim that their civil rights are being violated.
In its own motion Monday, the Open Government Project’s lawyer, Shari Goldsberry, maintained that the individual plaintiffs, some of whom are neither residents of Galveston or participants in Galveston Housing Authority’s voucher program, had standing because of their future potential choice to move to public housing in Galveston.
Goldsberry also expanded on the argument that the Open Government Project itself had been damaged by the public housing plans.
“GOGP has had to abandon other projects — such as its research and fight against violations of business owners’ Fifth Amendment rights, grant writing projects to address concerns of the city that local government has ignored, and its primary mission to convince the voters of Galveston to adopt a new form of city government and root out and expose incompetence and corruption in its operation — to dedicate its time and resources to educating the public about the defendants’ plan to rebuild public housing,” Goldsberry wrote.
The court has yet to set a date when either the motion for the injunction or the motion to dismiss will be heard.
While there has been no order to halt the construction of housing so far, officials said the lawsuit has already delayed the project because the Texas Attorney General’s office will not approve a bond sale while the issue is tied up in litigation. The housing authority said it has been researching alternate means of financing the $15 million expected to be raised through bonds, but no alternative has been announced.
In her affidavit, Sims-Hobdy said infrastructure work at the Cedar Terrace site, 2914 Ball St., is now 90 percent complete and infrastructure work at the Magnolia Homes site on The Strand would begin in 60 days.