GALVESTON — The public meeting hosted by the Galveston Housing Authority on Monday ended in a shouting match between people who support the plan to rebuild 569 public housing units and those who oppose it.
Encouraging poor people to live in Galveston is a bad idea opponents of the plan who were mostly white said. But without public housing the island’s nurses teachers aids and service industry workers will have nowhere to live supporters of the plan who were mostly African-American said.
About 200 people listened to Executive Director Harish Krishnarao and several consultants present a proposal to rebuild 340 apartments townhomes and duplexes on the four public housing sites left vacant after Hurricane Ike. Krishnarao plans to put the other 229 units throughout neighborhoods in the city’s urban core.
Although opponents question the need to replace all 569 housing units demolished after the storm something the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not require the housing authority board has made its decision member Ray Lewis said.
“It would be irresponsible to do anything else” he said. “I have no regrets about that.”
Lewis had to raise his voice to be heard over angry listeners who shouted “I disagree.” They were quickly followed by people on the other side of the room who shouted “I agree.”
Opponents wanted to know why the housing authority chose to rebuild so many units when it didn’t have to.
“The housing authority’s mission is to provide decent housing” Buddy Herz a former board member and local attorney said. “But high-density? We don’t want it. It will just produce the same type of ghettos we had for the last 50 years.”
Krishnarao referred listeners to the 64-page development plan to see why the agency decided it needed to rebuild all 569 units. But he previously has pointed to the long waiting lists the agency had for both public housing and housing assistance vouchers before the storm. Even if all the former residents do not return — and agency officials don’t expect them to — the island has plenty of other residents who need assistance Krishnarao has said.
The agency should not turn its back on people who need help Shirlyn Thomas said.
“Any community not willing to fight for its poor and disenfranchised is not worth living in” she said.
Housing authority officials will accept public comment on the rebuilding plan for the next 45 days. The board will take a vote on the final plan in mid-December.
The agency will hold three more public meetings to discuss the plan on Oct. 29 Nov. 12 and Nov. 24.
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