Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should stop stalling and grant Galveston Housing Authority permission to do something useful with 12 acres of prime real estate just north of Broadway.

As the situation stands now, the federal housing department won’t allow the local authority to sell the land, or to use it for what the authority exists to do — provide subsidized housing for poor people.

Two years ago, the authority submitted to the federal department a plan for selling the land, and had been inclined to sell it for much longer.

Meanwhile, private developers have been interested in buying land, which has been vacant since the Oleander Homes public housing project was demolished after being flooded during Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Two years after the authority sought permission to sell, and almost 10 years after the demolition, the federal government has yet to respond to the request or to indicate even when it might respond.

That’s baffling, because the federal department has been clear about one thing — that the authority cannot rebuild public housing on the land at 5228 Broadway because it’s unsuitable for that purpose.

Meanwhile, the local authority has been forced to take over the rebuilding and perpetual maintenance and operations of more than 200 units of scattered-site housing that the state and some “highly qualified, mission-driven nonprofit groups,” which apparently don’t really exist in the world, were supposed to build and operate.

The federal money those nonexistent groups were supposed to use to buy land, build units and operate them for decades to come apparently doesn’t exist either.

So, the local authority has been left holding the bag in two ways — it has been given an unfunded mandate to build the scattered-site units, but not on land it already owns and it can’t get permission to sell the land it can’t use for money that it needs.

The federal housing department might be right in ruling the Oleander Homes land is not suitable for public housing, although it’s hard to see what’s so different about that land and any other tract on this small island.

If that’s the case, though, what’s the hold-up in permitting the authority to sell?

While the federal government stalls, private companies continue to show interest in a purchase, authority board Chairman Melvin Williams said.

“I would think it’s pretty valuable property,” Williams said. “I would think if we were to sell it, we would get a nice chunk of change to support programs that are for human capital.”

These programs could include those that teach people steps to improve their lives, he said.

Both grocery store Aldi and hardware store McCoy’s Building Supply have indicated interest in purchasing the site, an authority spokeswoman said.

McCoy’s is still interested, Phil Hutchinson, real estate manager for the company, said Monday.

Leaving such a large parcel of land undeveloped is a waste, especially as the city attempts to revamp the area north of Broadway, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“It’s one of the largest tracts behind the seawall we have that’s undeveloped,” Yarbrough said. “You could help the community develop a tax base, jobs and services that are desperately needed.”

This is a simple question — either the authority should be able to use the property it owns to fulfill its responsibility to house the poor, or it should be allowed to sell the property so the land can go on the tax rolls.

Not even the federal government should need more than two years to decide that.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

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