prejudice

The racism of New Berlin is growing in Galveston

We noted yesterday the United States Department of Justice brought suit alleging the City of New Berlin, Wisconsin had violated the Fair Housing Act by denying a developer permission to build a mixed senior, family development financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).

I just read the Justice Department’s compliant in the case. The same conditions are widespread in Texas.

Read the Justice Department complaint

The facts in the New Berlin case read like a minor variant of a story many of us have watched unfold in Texas. It goes like this: developer applies for minor waivers and permits, city initially grants permission to proceed, newspaper reports low-income housing is proposed to be built, angry citizens organize, threats and intimidation ensue against elected officials, elected officials get scared and backtrack, permits withdrawn.

Katy, McKinney, Dallas, Houston, — dozens of Texas cities have seen similar scenarios repeatedly play out.

What’s different in the New Berlin case is the US Department of Justice has stepped in to force the community officials there to abide by the Fair Housing Act and allow the LIHTC development to proceed.

The federal government acted because local elected leaders could not, or would not, stand up to local citizens behaving like an irrational, hate-filled mob. That mob forced their elected leaders to violate the Civil Rights of African-Americans.

The facts in the New Berlin case made this a no brainer for the Justice Department. There was plenty of evidence that the local officials reacted because of the racial prejudices of their citizens, organized in opposition to the project. The mayor wrote to a friend in an email cited in the complaint…

Our city is filled with prejudiced and bigoted people who with very little facts are making this project into something evil and degrading…

But even without these admissions, the statements of the citizens opposed to the housing are sufficiently damning to convince any fair-minded person that this case is about white people fighting a housing development that will bring African-American families into their community.

The Justice Department complaint details the appalling statements of white citizens…

… city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the May 3 approval and the MSP [housing] project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race. The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced “niggers,” “white flight,” “crime,” “drugs,” “gangs,” “families with 10 or 15 kids,” of needing “to get a gun,” of “slums,” of not wanting New Berlin to turn into “Milwaukee,” of moving to New Berlin “to get away from the poor people,” of not wanting to provide housing to people “who work but do not live here.”

A citizens group launched a recall effort against the mayor who had voted for the project. In the face of this, the mayor and city council caved in to racism and bigotry and voted to resend permission for the project.

Outrageous? Of course it is.

But before becoming self-righteous in our indignation we need to acknowledge that this same thing is happening today right here in Texas. And no one in Texas is pushing back on our home-grown bigotry.

A group of people in Galveston are engaged in a campaign to block the rebuilding of homes of public housing residents destroyed by Hurricane Ike. While this group of white Galveston residents demands government funds for the rebuilding of “their ” community, they are organizing to make sure that lower-income and especially, lower-income African-Americans cannot move back home to Galveston.

This is ethnic cleansing pure and simple.

Repeated public expressions of racism, paranoia and hatred are vented daily on the internet, in the Galveston newspaper and at Galveston City Council meetings. Now a recall effort of the mayor of Galveston has begun. The mayor supports the rebuilding of the housing.

It sounds just like New Berlin, WI.

Prejudice, paranoia and hatred are an individual sickness that corrupts the soul of those who are infected. When the press, religious leaders, political leaders and good citizens don’t confront people who have this sickness it can spread to become an epidemic, crippling and corrupting an entire community.

That’s what happened in New Berlin, Wisconsin. That’s what could happen in Galveston, Texas.

About John Henneberger

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

9 Responses to “The racism of New Berlin is growing in Galveston”

  1. No one says a neighborhood that is 100% black needs more diversity.

    No one says a neighborhood that is 100% asian needs more diversity.

    No one says a neighborhood that is 100% oriental needs more diversity.

    They are already 100% diverse.

    All white neighborhoods and only white neighborhoods always need to be more diverse. White neighborhoods only stop needing to be more diverse when there are no white people left in them.

    Diversity is a codeword for white genocide.

  2. I think your analysis of Galveston is superficial and self-serving. You fail to cite any of the more unique aspects of the housing problem. Typically, you salute your own virtue. Congratulations! You, like all self-congratulatory liberals-are a fine human being.

  3. I can absolutely understand why Galveston doesn’t want the projects rebuilt. Since Ike, and it displacing public housing residents to the mainland, specifically Texas City, the petty crime rate in Texas City has drastically increased. Not to mention the numbers of unlicensed and uninsured drivers that came from there. The facts don’t lie. Ask a Texas City police officer. They know where the current criminal influx resided.

    I would love to have PH rebuilt on the island. The “residents” that want to go back to where they were before, in their own segregated crime hotspots could then return and again become the problem of Galveston. It’s only fair that Galveston deal with it’s issues, rather than shipping them where they are not happy, and where they are not wanted. These people have no respect for themselves, let alone anyone they come in contact with. I have lived in Texas City for 50 years, and it has never been so ghetto.
    I am not saying that there were not good people in Galveston Public Housing, but the ones that cause the crime increase give the rest a bad name. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
    Much of the problem lies with the mentality of generational entitlement. That they are somehow *owed* a place to live, and to have food and cash provided to them while they take active steps to increase the entitlement amounts and will not do anything that will even temporarily decrease them, even if the end outcome is a better life.

  4. Hi John,

    If you want a civil rights violation then I suggest you tell your readers how the Board of Commissioners of the Galveston housing Authority and the Mayor announced a policy that no public housing would be built on the West End “Period!”…. This policy announcement was made without an anysis of Impediments, without a public debate/vote by the Board of GHA, without a period of public comment. Tell me if I am wrong – is not denieing a specific geographical area to be considered for public housing, without due process, to a protected class of persons a violation of their civil rights? Add to that the fact that this tract is the wealthiest and whitest census tract on the island…. And who is promoting this policy? The very people who are shoving the Conciliation Agreement down the throats of Galveston “Do what we say or we will not give you disaster relief funds to rebuild your infrastructure”. What person in their right mind places the poor on a barrier island with a historically higher rate of unemployment than the mainland? There is no prejudice in Galveston that does not exist anywhere else. It is simply that here Galvestonians who make moeny off of poverty have turned it into an artform.

  5. Additionally – I fail to see how a realistic, fair comparison exists when Galveston is a minority white community with the highest % of public housing in Texas (one of the highest in the USA for cities with with comparable population levels) and New Berlin is 95% white with no public housing.

    This is race baiting….

  6. Playing the race card has gotten so popular these days that many of us don’t really care if we’re called racist – it’s become the ‘i can’t think of any better argument’ catch-all for those who don’t agree.

    People end up in public housing for a lot of good reasons. For the elderly and infirm, public housing provides a well deserved safety net that our society ought to provide. What you choose not to recognize is that there are some folks who are not elderly, or infirm, but have just made (and continue to make?) bad life choices that involve drugs, crime and are, in general, not the best neighbors. These people come in all colors – white, black, yellow, red, you name it. That’s not being racist. If real policies existed that kept these bad actors out of PH that would be great – but that never happens in real life.

    Finally, how you figure it makes sense to put 569 (or 1500, depending) of our most vulnerable families on a barrier island next to the Gulf of Mexico, where there are no jobs, only limited services and where they are subject to mandatory evacuations at a moments notice is beyond me. Placing all of Galveston County’s public housing on Galveston Island was a bad idea 50 years ago, and the idiots like you (and our mayor) who are hell-bent to repeat that mistake care more about ‘in your face’ politics than the very families that public housing was meant to help.

  7. charley killebrew August 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Mr. Hennenberger, the problem Galveston faces has nothing to do with racism. The citizens of Galveston do not want the city to be in competition for either rental, lease or purchase of housing with the property owners who are in that type of business. There are approximately
    7,000 properties for rent or sale; of those, probably 5,000 would qualify for Section 8. Property owners are begging for renters. Persons with Section 8 vouchers are in demand to fill those vacancies. Galveston Housing Authority is an extremely poorly run organization.
    They did a lousy job taking care of their properties prior to hurricane Ike, and they had ample funds in the bank to fulfill those obligations. Oleander Homes, Magnolia Homes, Cedar Terrace, Palm Terrace, Holland House, Gulf Breeze, etc. all were desperately in need of repairs constantly, but were never taken care of.
    Our mayor, Joe Jaworski, is a liar and probably aspires to become a thief if he can get his way working with HUD, GHA and McCormack, Baron & Salazar. He is in the process of being recalled because he lied to the people who supported him and helped him to be elected. He is an embarrassment to our city. He, and some of our council members, fired our city manager, Steve LeBlanc for doing his job and having too much experience.
    Yeah, go figure. He appointed a convicted felon to the GHA board of directors along with some others who have no experience in this field. All this so he could control the board in it’s dealing with HUD and MBS. This whole scenario cannot pass the smell test. He has stunk up Galveston worse than the seaweed that covers our beach at times.
    No, it’s not racism; it’s fascism. It’s Jaworski. Somebody get a rope!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. When the overwhelming majority of good people don’t confront prejudice, an entire community suffers | Texas housers - August 2, 2011

    […] received a phone call yesterday from Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski about my June 25 blog post, ”The racism of New Berlin is growing in Galveston.” The mayor told me […]

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