GALVESTON — Lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit over the plans for mixed-income housing in Galveston said Monday they were standing down and expected a district court judge to rule the housing plans do not violate federal fair housing laws.
A hearing originally scheduled for this morning — during which lawyers would have questioned expert witnesses about the constitutionality about the housing plans — has been canceled after the lawyer representing the one plaintiff opposing the housing plans asked for the constitutional argument to be dismissed.
Had the hearing happened, attorney Shari Goldsberry would have had to prove the housing plans intentionally perpetuated racial segregation in the city.
The Galveston Housing Authority plans to build two mixed-income housing developments on the sites of public housing units that were demolished following Hurricane Ike in 2008.
In a motion asking for the dismissal, Goldsberry told the court that her client, Trysha McCardell, no longer believed she could succeed on making that argument, based on prior statements made by Judge Gregg Costa late last week.
Instead, Goldsberry asked the court to provide final judgment on Costa’s ruling that the housing plans do not violate the federal Fair Housing Act, which Costa already said he would do last Friday. When that final decision is in hand, Goldsberry said she would appeal it to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Costa wrote last week that he believed the Fair Housing Act was not being violated, because “significantly fewer” public housing units were being built on the sites of the developments, which once held apartment buildings dedicated solely to public housing.
“The judge determined that a little-known provision in the law entitles HUD to rebuild on sites where public housing had been built in the past, whether their plans affirmatively further fair housing or not,” Goldsberry said. “We disagree with that ruling.”
Monday’s development brings an abrupt end to the trial court portion of lawsuit that has been brewing in the court since December and has included almost 140 different filings, but only one procedural hearing inside a courtroom.
The plaintiff’s constitutional case was rendered “not viable” following a deposition by Dr. Kirk McClure, an expert on urban planning who conducted reports on the demographics of the areas where the housing developments are planned to be built. McClure, who had been called as an expert witness for both sides, testified that his studies did not find any intent to discriminate within the housing plans.
Carla Cotropia, an attorney representing the Galveston Housing Authority, said the defendants in the case would make a motion for a summary judgment in the coming days, which will open the door to a final ruling by Costa.
With the case heading for dismissal, housing authority officials said they expect a decision about how to move forward with the construction of the Cedar Terrace and Magnolia Homes developments will come at the next meeting of the housing authority’s board of trustees at the end of the month.
“I think there’s a very good chance that the board will discuss and head toward breaking ground,” said housing authority Chairman Irwin “Buddy” Herz.
Herz said the housing authority was negotiating an agreement with the state’s General Land Office to provide the funding needed to finance the projects — although the terms of that deal have not yet been finalized.
Goldsberry said she believed the appeal would be filed in the next couple of weeks. If the appeal is granted, it would be sent back down to the district court for another hearing.
The Fifth Circuit is viewed as one of the most conservative appeals courts in the county, but Goldsberry said she would not speculate about how that could effect the argument over the fair housing act.
“Judge Costa has been wonderfully responsive,” Goldsberry said. “He just did not rule in our favor. We hope to get more favorable rulings from the higher court.”