GALVESTON — Even as city officials attempt to appease state and federal authorities and restart the flow of federal disaster funds meant for housing and infrastructure projects, they are assessing ways to challenge the construction of hundreds of houses meant for low- and middle-income people on the island.

In a document obtained by The Daily News, the city is advised on ways it could challenge the locations of 388 scattered site housing units planned to someday be built on the island. Such a challenge would be based on an argument that the poor would benefit more if more of the houses were built on the mainland of Galveston County.

“It is worthwhile to envision some of the avenues of litigation and the potential timing for both the city and opponents of a city plan to move scattered site housing off the island,” wrote Dallas attorney Terry D. Morgan in the April 17 legal opinion sent to City Attorney Dorothy Palumbo.

Legal services

The city council on March 14 voted to hire Morgan’s firm and pay him $25,000 to enter a legal services agreement related to fair housing issues.

The legal opinion was written April 17, the same day the city council held a special meeting to address the General Land Office’s decision to freeze more than $100 million in disaster funds meant for the city.

According the public housing plan passed by the council in September, 388 scattered site housing units will be built on the island and another 50 could be built off the island. The units are meant to replace public housing units destroyed by Hurricane Ike.

In the memo

In the memo, Morgan reviews the history of plans for scattered-site housing and suggests the city might be able to stop their construction, if it can win an argument over whether the scattered sites would actually increase racial segregation.

That argument would come after the state’s General Land Office completes a housing development study meant to help determine the location of the scattered sites on the island.

“The city may wish to challenge the findings of the study, should the conclusion be reached that only sites in the city (affirmatively further fair housing),” Morgan wrote.

Appealing the result

He wrote that if the city disagreed with the land office study, it could appeal the findings to the Department of Housing and Urban Development or, if that failed, in federal court.

“The city could appeal the result in federal district court, alleging that the plan, if implemented, does not (affirmatively further fair housing), but instead promotes and perpetuates racial segregation,” Morgan wrote.

The memo also suggests that the city could, instead of filing a challenge, refuse to approve scattered site locations or projects — which could result in a similar outcome that a city-initiated challenge would.

The Daily News requested a copy of the legal opinion from the city under the Texas Public Information Act. The city referred the request to the Attorney General’s office, saying that it believed it fell under exemptions provided for attorney-client privilege and work product privilege. In her argument to the attorney general, Palumbo offered some insight into why Morgan’s opinion was sought in the first place.

“In 2012, individuals and groups made public threats of litigation to the city through the Galveston City Council,” Palumbo wrote. “The Galveston City Council took those ‘threats’ seriously and requested the city attorney to provide legal opinions on how to proceed should litigation regarding reconstruction of public housing ensue.”

Likely lawsuits

Morgan’s memo does not mention those threats but does raise the possibility that the city could be sued if it tried to seek alternatives to the current scattered site housing plans.

The city would likely face lawsuits from housing advocates who want to see 388 housing units built on the island, Morgan wrote. Any challenge to the land office study or the proposal to change the scattered-site plans would probably cause federal grant money to be withheld or directed away from the city.

“There are multiple parties that could be arrayed against any effort to located scattered site housing outside the city of Galveston,” Morgan wrote. “Such opposition may result in lengthy legal proceeding and termination of hurricane disaster funds.”

Settlement preferred

Morgan wrote that any arguments against a land office study would need to be backed up by studies conducted by the city.

On that front, the city may already be laying the groundwork. In March, the council voted to hire Kirk McClure, a professor of Urban Planning at the University of Kansas, to conduct a study on housing projects in the city. McClure has previously advised the Galveston Housing Authority during the development of the island’s mixed income housing plans — during which he advised against building the Cedar Terrace and Magnolia Homes development in their proposed locations. Instead, he advised the authority to try to build in one of 24 “high-opportunity areas,” 21 of which are on the mainland in Galveston County.

Beyond hiring McClure, the city council has not commissioned any studies about scattered-site housing or the alternatives that would allow more of the houses to be moved off the island. Morgan wrote that an independent study that would include analysis from economists and demographic experts, legal reviews and a critique of the land office study.

Morgan cautioned that pursuing an off-island strategy for scattered site housing would be “an uphill battle” and that the city should appeal to the federal housing department before taking the issue to court.

“A negotiated settlement is of course preferable to years of costly litigation,” Morgan wrote. “The foundation for negotiating a solution depends on establishing facts that support the city’s strategy for replacement housing.”

Morgan wrote that because of opposition from places that might receive public housing instead of Galveston, a thorough investigation of potential sites, followed by “discrete inquiries” with appropriate officials would be important toward implementing an off-island strategy.

A land office spokesman said Wednesday the agency had not yet chosen a consultant to conduct its housing study,

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

(12) comments

Dwight Burns

I, for one, never thought I would see the day the city of my birth and known for it's ethnic diversity, since it's birth, would try to restrict who lives and who does not live on Galveston Island.

Affordable Public Housing is a part of every City I know of in America. The rebuilding of homes destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008 should be in the past. Yet hear it is 2013 and the City of Galveston is still throwing up road block after road block in order to keep low income people displaced by Hurricane Ike from moving back to the Island by every legal trick in the book and not.


I think the idea of having to use Kirk McClure, a professor of Urban Planning at the University of Kansas, to conduct a study is a slap in the face to every professor of Urban Planning in the State of Texas. Why in Sam heck does the City of Galveston have to go all the way to Kansas, to find a professor of Urban Planning when the Galveston/Houston College System has qualified professionals who could do the job and probably because they 'live here', do a much better job at less cost to the tax payers who will pick up the tab?

In my 65 years, I haven't seen Galveston this separated by race, even during Segregation.

MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

Drumb47, while I agree with most of your post, I don't think the part about race being the dominating factor as to where to put the public housing units is accurate because there are equally I'm sure just as many low-income Caucassion, Mexican American, Asian, as well as, other nationalities who utilize public housing.

It does appear however by all accounts as though city officials is taking advantage of an unfortunate situation by trying to limit the number of public housing units replaced in Galveston itself in order to change the climate of their residents in an effort to appeal to the higher end property owner.

I absolutely agree with you that those displaced by hurricane Ike do deserve the same rights to return to Galveston and to the life that they once had prior to the hurricane.

Surely there can be a compromise that's a win-win for everyone?

npappous
Norman Pappous

It is a universal right to be able to return home after a disaster has forced you to leave. The only caveat is if the area is still safe - Chernobyl is a good example.

GHA residents were provided with vouchers after Ike. That means they can choose where they wish to live. If they want to return to Galveston, they have that right and that ability as Galveston has more subsidized housing available per capita than most anywhere in the entire state - if not the nation.

Many have chosen to return. That was confirmed by GHA representatives to the GISD Board of Trustees and the CoG City Council on different occasions. It is on tape and available for viewing. The only roadblock is that you have to search through the meetings to find the appropriate one. Alternative you can connect with each entity's Public Information Officer for assistance in locating that meeting date.

No one is keeping anyone from living in Galveston. If you know of any GHA resident that was refused housing in Galveston and was fully compliant with HUD regulations, please have them contact me at normanpappous@cityofgalveston.org and I will look into it.

As for McClure instead of a local person.... McClure is one of the best in the country and was recommended by a Texas professor when they were unavailable to do the work.

JT_Edwards
JT Edwards

Councilman Pappous said:
"No one is keeping anyone from living in Galveston. If you know of any GHA resident that was refused housing in Galveston and was fully compliant with HUD regulations, please have them contact me at normanpappous@cityofgalveston.org and I will look into it."

I, as a GHA Commissioner, share in that same sentiment.

You can contact me directly at jtedwards@ghatx.org

No one has been refused to my knowledge.

Steve Fouga

"I, for one, never thought I would see the day the city of my birth and known for it's ethnic diversity, since it's birth, would try to restrict who lives and who does not live on Galveston Island."

drumb47, are you serious? Have you ever lived anyplace other than the Island? All over the country, cities try to shape their populations to match their goals. Galveston already has a large proportion of poor people, and probably sees no reason to add more. Have you traveled extensively? I have. Nowhere have I seen more ethnic diversity than in Galveston. It's pathetic that supporters of public housing immediately turn every debate into a discussion of race.

IMO, the issues are crime, and whether we need more non-contibutors to the future and well-being of Galveston. If we feel a higher crime rate is desirable, then by all means build the housing. If we need a further drain on our future, build the housing. I say Galveston already has enough disadvantages.

ERMA SMITH

Why is Texas City and or La Marque so mum about this foolery going on in Galveston! Seems to me as if the mainland should be seeking legal advise to counter Galvatraz. This is their problem, not ours. A culture of social hierarchy, exclusion and exclusivity with very little investment of into the community (unlike Texas City) has created this climate in Galveston. Galveston prides itself on self reliance, well..... here's your opportunity. We on the mainland don't want any part of your mess.

Steve Fouga

I'm sure you don't, but your liberal politicians might. I doubt it, though. They're probably not as dumb as our liberal politicians.

George Croix

My right to return to my property does not, or certainly should not, include any right to demand that someone else pay their money out of pocket to restore my property to it's original or better condition.

kevjlang
Kevin Lang

gecroix, your point is well-taken. I'll rattle off a few things that are worth considering, however: family ties, work, higher education. I don't think we should make a blanket statement that a poor person whose family lives on the island should necessarily be compelled to move because their PH washed or blew away. If moving away creates a hardship for the person to keep their job, that's something we need to look at, too.

I do not endorse a blanket approval for able-bodied folks to sit in public housing in locations where they are not likely to find jobs that would allow them to climb out of poverty. However, I don't endorse forcing the elderly or disabled to live inland while their immediate family is doing OK in Galveston.

I think it would be very important for the PH advocates to specify how many of the residents would be elderly or disabled, gainfully employed, and unemployable. I don't much care for a plan that essentially pays for people to just hang out on the beach while living on free rent and meals. It seems to be rewarding them for being unemployable. The government should not strive for building homes just to warehouse people that are able-bodied but would not be able to find local employment.

So, just because they were living in Galveston before the storm shouldn't be reason enough to rebuild them a place in Galveston. There must be more justification than that.

George Croix

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the rights of each enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.
There is no application at the end of it for anyone to fill out to be insured as to the level of success one will have in any of those areas.

kevjlang
Kevin Lang

I don't think that I made any points about guaranteeing someone a right to success. To flip your coin, though, we do not have the right to deny someone the opportunity to continue on their path of success. Along those lines, from what I understand, it doesn't sound like there's any rampant indications of that happening, though. If it's true that everyone that had just cause to return, and expressed their desire to return, have been accomodated in other units on the island. Which gets to my point of the advocates needing to indicate who's yet to return, and what the compelling reasons for their return are. Just because that's where they were before Ike, or because that's how many units there were before Ike doesn't seem to be reason enough to build 500+ PH units. I don't think that either side has been able to demonstrate whether there's an appropriate number between 0 and 569 that would represent the right number of units to build.

Eva Quearry

Is there a shortage of workers to fill minimum wage jobs on the Island? Having real numbers would help clarify whether we would be bringing back hundreds of former residents to likely unemployment or to fill vacant job openings. Pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is a good example of large numbers of unemployed (unemployable/disabled/no available jobs/lack of transportation/uneducated/temporarily unemployed, etc) living in largely segregated (cultural/familial/cost) areas that became uninhabitable after Katrina. Have we learned nothing from that example just 3 years before Ike? If there are jobs available & Galveston can provide transportation to get to those jobs, then we should ensure that those former residents have an opportunity to live here. But is it really feasible or desirable to bring back anyone or everyone who used to live here on the Island just because they used to live here? Not a simple issue but I have heard no compelling argument that it is prudent to do so, if not only for their own health, safety, & well being.

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