Remarks by Andrew Cuomo
Tuesday, October 3, 2000
Beaumont, Texas, Housing Authority
Telephone Press Conference Call
We're going to talk specifically about a situation in east Texas with the Beaumont Housing Authority. But we're also going to be making an announcement of Fair Housing grants. One of the priorities for the Department, and for me personally, has been enforcement of what's called the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act was passed one week after Martin Luther King's death. It was basically a tribute to his life. The Fair Housing Act says you shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, gender. It's a very powerful law if enforced. For many years, in my opinion, the Department did not enforce the law the way it could have been enforced.
President Clinton has talked about One America and ?? just on the issue of race ?? and there are two prongs to that. One is a dialogue where we all understand one another and understand the differences and the second is to enforce the law. Because discrimination is not just a bad thing, it's also illegal.
We're a nation of laws -- enforce the law. We have the Fair Housing Act and that's what we've been working to do. Under my administration, you will see more aggressive enforcement of the Fair Housing laws than any other time in HUD history. I'm proud of that. My position is that you cannot compromise a person's civil rights. Compromise on civil rights is an abridgement of their civil rights. We are speaking about the Beaumont Housing Authority specifically.
This situation with Beaumont actually began back in 1964 when public housing in east Texas was legally desegregated. But, at that time, segregated patterns in public in what's called the Synford housing continued nonetheless. In 1980, a group of African American applicants for our housing programs ?? federally assisted housing ?? sued to dismantle the system of what they alleged was segregated public housing. In 1985, a federal court found that efforts to desegregate weren't working and ruled that HUD was responsible for remedying the segregated system. That's 1985.
In 1992, we gave the Beaumont Housing Authority money to develop 150 new units of housing in a desegregated way, away from racial concentration. But this is the situation that started in 1964. Since 1992, the Housing Authority started to comply but then backed off.
They've only built or acquired at a maximum 100 of the 150 units that they were supposed to do. They've only placed about 40 tenants into this housing. So their progress, in short, has been unacceptable. It's been 8 years. They still haven't fulfilled their commitment. As I said, civil rights deferred are civil rights denied. The rights of Beaumont's assisted housing residents have clearly been denied.
To aggravate this situation, while they were not doing what they were supposed to be doing, the BHA was also illegally selling off properties to the private market that could have been used to desegregate. As a further aggravation of the situation, salt on the wound so to speak, at the same time the BHA built a 150?unit moderate and high?income development called Lexington on the Lake, which would not be used to further the desegregation efforts.
A review by the East Texas Fair Housing Center, which is the court?appointed body charged with monitoring discrimination in BHA, concluded in their most recent report that the BHA had impeded the creation of desegregated housing opportunities in the Golden Triangle Area. They actually impeded, rather than what they were supposed to be doing, which was furthering. Of course, it's hard to tell just how poorly Beaumont is doing when it comes to desegregation because the BHA has repeatedly failed to submit documentation that would determine whether or not it was complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which is basically the relevant act here.
We have tried to compromise the situation numerous times with the Housing Authority. Congressman Lampson has been exceedingly generous with his time and his effort and has worked very, very hard to try to reach a compromise. But it has all been to no avail. We've made numerous good faith offers that were rejected. I believe we had no choice but to proceed with the take over in this manner.
We are anticipating a new manager of the Housing Authority. The Port Arthur Housing Authority is a good operation in our opinion. We're going to ask them to come in to take over the Beaumont Housing Authority. We will ask the new management, as the first order of business, to do a full inventory of what the housing authority has, what funds they have, what units they have, what developments they're building and then to come up with a plan on how to maximize desegregation.
This will actually be a good thing for our efforts to desegregate the ?? all the stipulations that we have made with the Beaumont Housing Authority over the years are now null and void. So we can just come up with a plan to actually do the best we can to desegregate and to meet the court order.
This is in keeping with our ?? what we call our zero tolerance policy when it comes to civil rights violations. I'm very proud of the record we've established nationwide, from coast to coast. Riverside, California. We went in and did a case with farm worker families who were victims of discriminatory enforcement of health and safety code regulations and HUD won a $21 million settlement which would create housing opportunities for 2,000 California farm workers. It was the largest farm worker settlement in history.
We have a situation in Elgin, Illinois ?? literally, because these past few weeks, where again minorities were victims of midnight raids of their homes by local officials who were trying to find occupancy code violations. We've reached a settlement there.
Last month, we did a case against the Ku Klux Klan in Pennsylvania. So we're going to enforce the law ?? we're going to stand up for civil rights. It has been an historic obligation of the federal government. We will not compromise anyone's civil rights and that's the statement we're making in Beaumont. It should be point out that this is about the Beaumont Housing Authority and the actions of the housing authority ?? I do not believe this is reflective of the people of Beaumont. I believe it is an act of the housing authority and exclusively within their dominion and control and that's the situation that would be remedied.
We're also announcing Fair Housing Grants today which will go to organizations with help on fair housing. If you have any questions of those, you can call the press office and they can give you more information on the grants. These are grants that go to non?for?profit organizations around the country.
Let me turn it over now, please, to Mr. William Hale, who's the executive director of the Texas Commission on Human Rights ?? who's very familiar with this situation ?? who's responsible in this state for supervising these types of matters and has done extraordinarily work.
Mr. William Hale. Thank you for being with us today.
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