Those who seek to limit Fair Housing law should be asked about Beaumont, Texas

Beaumont Housing Authority’s Concord Homes: a living legacy of housing segregation

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of the United States takes up a case about housing discrimination in Dallas that has brought national attention to the cause of fair housing. Texas state political leaders seem to be willfully blind to housing discrimination and segregation in bringing this lawsuit to limit Fair Housing remedies. Almost fifty years after passage of the Fair Housing Act the long struggle against segregated housing is still being fought at the local level in many American cities and perhaps in no place is the problem worse than Texas.

The area around Beaumont in East Texas has been the scene of an ongoing battle over housing segregation for thirty years. A federal court case in the mid-1980s found that more than 90 percent of public housing in East Texas was racially segregated. In 1993, after a court order finally forced the all-white Beaumont suburb of Vidor to accept black tenants at its public housing development, the Ku Klux Klan and Vidor residents protested and harassed the four African-American men and women who moved into the formerly all-White public housing forcing them to flee town within six months.

This outrage came as the Clinton administration seized control of the local housing authority and forcibly integrated Vidor’s public housing under the protection of federal marshals. HUD also seized control of the Beaumont Housing Authority (BHA) in 2000, after Andrew Cuomo, then the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), confronted BHA’s refusal to locate public housing anywhere but in the most segregated, polluted, economically depressed area of Beaumont. HUD forced BHA to purchase “scattered site” homes and duplexes to use as public housing, making housing outside the “projects” available for the first time to the nearly all Black tenants of BHA in less impoverished, less crime-ridden, less polluted and less segregated neighborhoods.

Today, BHA seeks to expand its racially segregated housing. Using federal funds earmarked for disaster recovery for Hurricane Ike, BHA proposes to sell off the scattered homes, literally the only public housing available to families outside of segregated, high poverty neighborhoods. Despite having sufficient disaster recovery funds to purchase land and build quality housing in lower poverty, less polluted neighborhoods, the public housing authority also plans to tear down and rebuild in place Concord Homes, a 100-unit public housing development located in the North End neighborhood where BHA has long concentrated public housing. In doing so, this local government agency seeks to lock in and maintain housing segregation for future generations.

Five of BHA’s eight housing developments are within a half-mile of Concord Homes, an area that is 77 percent African-American and in the city’s poorest Census tracts. The area’s median household income is $14,935, barely a quarter of the national average. Concord Homes abuts a heavily-used rail line carrying chemicals to and from the Port of Beaumont and large petrochemical refineries. It is in a neighborhood zoned for industrial use next to a commercial junkyard and two toxic air pollution release sites: a concrete plant and an asphalt plant. Ninety-five percent of Concord Homes residents are African-American and all are poor.

Rejecting the opportunity to use disaster recovery funds to provide housing outside this segregated, industrially polluted, impoverished neighborhood, BHA wants to rebuild Concord Homes in the same place. Coupled with its proposal to sell off scattered site units located in residential neighborhoods, BHA’s plan would leave Beaumont’s public housing tenants with no choice but to live in one of the many projects BHA owns in this segregated, high-poverty part of town.

Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and our partner, Texas Appleseed, have proposed alternative solutions that would offer an alternative to more segregated housing and comply with fair housing law. BHA could develop smaller, multi-family public housing developments in lower poverty, higher opportunity neighborhoods or existing or new scattered site single family and duplex homes could be acquired for Concord Homes families. The funds are available to make this happen. Local racial attitudes and prejudice are all that stand in the way.

Several months ago we met with BHA leaders, Beaumont city and county elected officials and their supporters who asked us not to object to rebuilding Concord Homes. “We tried integration in Beaumont,” they told us. “It didn’t work.”

That is a shocking statement coming from a delegation of a community with Beaumont’s history. All we can say is that Beaumont has also created and enforced racial segregation for a hundred and fifty years. It has not worked and it is unlawful.

Fair Housing law does not give government agencies like the Beaumont Housing Authority the right to choose segregation for its current and future generations of renters.

BHA’s insistence on maintaining segregated housing is a tragic legacy. Concord Homes residents, present and future, have the legal right to an opportunity to live in a safe, non-polluted neighborhood. The 1968 Fair Housing Act, passed just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stands in the way of governmental and private actors who would maintain the legacy of discrimination and segregation that current and future African-American and Mexican-American families have suffered in East Texas for generations.

As the justices of the Supreme Court listen to the arguments of the State of Texas, which seeks to limit the applicability of federal Fair Housing law, they should ask: “What about Beaumont?”

Perry’s comment shows the importance of the #KeepHousingFair campaign

Photo: Creative Commons / Gage Skidmore
Photo: Creative Commons / Gage Skidmore

Yesterday, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Fair Housing Alliance launched the #KeepHousingFair campaign. With less than a week to go before the Supreme Court of the United States takes up a case about housing discrimination in Texas, the campaign is a reminder of how necessary fair housing laws are to reducing segregation and promoting equal opportunity.

Here in Texas, yesterday was a chance for Rick Perry to again demonstrate how badly the state needs that reminder. Showing some audacious timing, the outgoing governor remarked in his farewell speech to the state legislature that “Texas doesn’t recognize the artificial barriers of race, class or creed.”

The state is only days away from making Perry’s argument before the highest court in the land. In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., the state asserts that a 2012 federal ruling, which found Texas guilty of housing discrimination in practice, is incorrect.

They’ll argue that it doesn’t matter if the way the state approved affordable apartment developments resulted in segregating low-income housing in the same predominantly black, low-opportunity neighborhoods in south Dallas. Since Texas “doesn’t recognize the artificial barriers of race” or class – i.e. doesn’t explicitly say, these neighborhoods are where poor African-Americans will live – there can be nothing wrong with segregated housing.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination in intent or in practice. The State of Texas was shown to discriminate in practice, so now they’re asking the Supreme Court to get rid of that part of the law.

The #KeepHousingFair campaign stands up to Perry’s claim that Texas is blind to race and class and yet, in Dallas and elsewhere, perpetuates a system that results in racial and economic segregation. The Supreme Court needs to remember the Fair Housing Act, and that comments like Perry’s are why it still matters that we #KeepHousingFair.

What’s really at stake for low-income families of color in the Inclusive Communities Supreme Court case


Photo: John Marino / Creative Commons
Photo: John Marino / Creative Commons

On Jan. 21, the Supreme Court of the United States will begin to hear arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., an appeal of a 2012 decision regarding fair housing in the Dallas area. For more background on the case, check out our first blog post on the topic.

It is easy to overlook what is really at stake in the Dallas fair housing lawsuit appeal before the Supreme Court. The State of Texas would have us believe the case is over racial quotas, but it is not. It is about whether families will get to choose a better, safer home and a chance for their children to succeed in school.

A woman in Frisco, Texas, whom I’ll call Mary, illustrates what is at stake for families. Mary is a working mother raising three sons ages 6, 9 and 15. She has a full-time job as a medical assistant that she likes, but the job barely pays enough to support her family. Fortunately Mary has a Housing Choice Voucher.

The most important thing in Mary’s life is the well-being and success of her children. Mary, who is African-American, struggled for years to raise her children in an impoverished, racially segregated area of South Dallas. Today Mary and her family, through a combination of her Housing Choice Voucher and a Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) apartment, live in a neighborhood in Frisco, in north Dallas County, that is worlds apart from her former home in south Dallas’ Turner Courts public housing project.

Mary was permitted to choose to move to a neighborhood where she and her children are thriving. Tise promise of fair housing is what is at stake before the Supreme Court.


Mary’s family’s former and current neighborhoods illuminate the striking differences between the inner-city and suburbs. Her old South Dallas neighborhood was situated in a Census tract that is predominately African-American and Hispanic, making its share of minorities well above the regional average. The Frisco neighborhood in which the family resides today is more integrated and roughly typical to Dallas regional demographics. It is majority White, Non-Hispanic, with a greater percentage of Hispanics than the regional average, but still much less than the old Turner Courts project area. Frisco’s share of African-Americans is just a fraction of the share residing in Turner Courts.

Mary’s old neighborhood Mary’s new neighborhood Dallas MSA
White, Non-Hispanic 2.4 48.5 50.2
African American, Non-Hispanic 40.5 7.9 14.7
Hispanic, Any Race 57.1 37.0 27.5
Source: US Census, ACS 2008-2012

The family’s former neighborhood is a textbook example of the concentration of poverty. Over half of all residents of that Census tract live below the poverty level. This number is astounding compared to both the Dallas regional average and the family’s current neighborhood in Frisco. Moreover, the median family income (MFI) of the old neighborhood is less than 30% of Dallas’ MFI, while the Frisco neighborhood, solidly middle-class, marginally exceeds the Dallas area MFI.

Old neighborhood New neighborhood Dallas MSA
Poverty Rate 53.3 8.4 11
Median Family Income $16,318 $69,125 $68,585
Percent MFI 23.8 100.8
Source: ACS 2008-2012


Crime rates between the two neighborhoods offer a striking contrast . The violent crime rate in old neighborhood is almost four times higher than near the family’s new neighborhood. Moreover, NeighborhoodScout (a neighborhood quality rating website) found the old neighborhood to be in an area that suffered more from crime than 85% of neighborhoods nationwide. In contrast, the family’s new residence is in an area that is safer than over half of neighborhoods nationwide.


In terms of property crime rates, the Turner Courts area is well above the Dallas average. The property crime rate around Mary’s family’s former residence is also twice as high as the area in which they currently live.


Public Schools

The difference in quality public schools near the family’s former and new residence is even more dramatic. At their former home, Mary’s teenage son would have attended Lincoln High School, which did not pass the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) standards outlined in their 2014 Accountability Ratings. More than 85 percent of Lincoln’s students are economically disadvantaged, more than a quarter change schools within a year and the graduation rate is lower than the state average (88 percent). The dropout rate at Lincoln is also more than twice the state average of 6.6%.

Today, Mary’s eldest son now attends Wakeland High School in Frisco. This school met the TEA standards and has a much lower percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged or who change schools within a year. Over 97 percent of students graduate from Wakeland and less than 1 percent drop out.

School Accountability rating Economically Disadvantaged (%) Mobility rate Graduation rate Dropout rate
Lincoln H.S. Improvement Required 85.3 26.5 77.5 14.0
Wakeland H.S. Met Standard 7.1 6.8 97.7 0.3
Sources: TEA Accountability Ratings, 2014. TEA Class of 2013 Four-Year High School Completion Rates.

Environmental Hazards

A brief analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental “facilities of interest” yields some understanding of the types of land use near Mary’s family’s former and current residences. Both residences are located fairly close to railroad tracks and major highways, which can contribute to noise and air pollution. Within a mile of their old apartment, there are numerous sites related to air emissions, toxic releases, hazardous waste, and water discharge. Of the 19 sites within about a one-mile radius, six sites are owned and operated by the City of Dallas, one is an auto parts store, three are dry cleaners and eight are manufacturing or industrial facilities. There is one brownfield site within about a mile of their old apartment.


Sites of environmental interest to the EPA near Mary’s Frisco neighborhood are fewer and less hazardous. Of the nine sites found within a mile of the family’s new home, six are commercial businesses, including a pharmacy, hardware store, retail chain stores, a wholesale grocer and an orthodontics office. While some of these larger retailers could be sources of truck and vehicle traffic, they are also uses of land that can be seen as more beneficial than harmful to nearby families. Sites near the Frisco neighborhood that could be cause for concern include one municipally-owned wastewater treatment plant and an auto paint and body shop.


Housing Choice Makes a Difference

Raising three kids on a medical assistant’s pay is tough. A housing voucher makes it possible for Mary to keep her family together. But in Dallas, as in most places, there are not a lot of landlords outside of impoverished neighborhoods who are willing to accept a voucher. Low Income Housing Tax Credit apartments are required by law to do so. That is why it is important that government agencies ensure that LIHTC apartments are available across the region and not only in impoverished neighborhoods where there is already an abundance of available apartments.

Mary is grateful for a chance to raise her family in a place where most of her neighbors have jobs and few struggle with poverty. It gives her peace of mind knowing that her children can go to and from school and play in the park in a neighborhood where crime is not a major problem. As a medical professional she cares that her family is not exposed to the significant environmental hazards of her old neighborhood. But most of all, it’s the schools that make the biggest difference. Mary proudly shows off her third grader’s report card with all A’s and B’s. Her son in high school is doing so well that he is eligible for an early college program that allows high school students to get an associate’s degree at a local community college. He’s deciding between that program and continuing to play football for his new school, which he loves. That is his choice because his mother had a choice of where to live.

Choice is what fair housing is all about. Housing choice for African-American families like Mary’s is available in Dallas today because the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs changed the rules for where LIHTC apartments are built in response to the original lawsuit that will now be heard by the Supreme Court.

If you were Mary, would you want your family to have a choice of where to live? That is the question the Supreme Court needs to answer.

A Texas houser’s thoughts on the State of Texas’ appeal of the Dallas fair housing case to the Supreme Court

As a whole, Texas has made some real progress toward equal opportunity and fair housing in the forty-six years since the Fair Housing Act was enacted. But for lower-income households of color, progress lags. One major problem is the lack of affordable housing opportunities for African-American and Hispanic households outside traditional high-poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods.

This is one reason Congress passed the Fair Housing Act — to ensure equal opportunity and fair housing for everyone. Government agencies have an opportunity and a legal obligation to address persistent housing segregation when they use public funds to build new affordable housing. There simply is no excuse for government to continue to restrict minority citizens’ subsidized housing choices to segregated, distressed neighborhoods when public resources are available that can offer people a choice of other places to live. Finding a better place to live is one important pathway out of poverty.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in a Texas fair housing case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project.

While we are not a party to this lawsuit, we are concerned both about the state’s appeal and what it says about the State of Texas’ commitment to equal opportunity, civil rights and fair housing. Many households with lower incomes depend on the apartments created through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program for a decent, affordable place to live. A large share of families living in tax credit units are African Americans.

In the appeal the Supreme Court will take up, the facts are not in dispute. In the Dallas metro area, over decades the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) awarded many millions of dollars through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to private developers to build affordable apartments. Geographic choices of where tax credit units would be located were partly driven by TDHCA’s governing board’s discretion and partly driven by an application scoring system adopted by TDHCA that weighs a number of factors. The result, year after year, was that TDHCA paid developers to build apartments largely in low-income, African-American neighborhoods in South Dallas instead of in neighborhoods that had no subsidized housing, lower poverty and where African-American households were less concentrated.

In March 2012 Federal District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater, who was appointed to the bench by President Reagan, ruled in the original Inclusive Communities Project vs. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs lawsuit that the way the state housing agency awarded the federal housing tax credits in the Dallas area has a “disparate” racial impact, violating §3604(a) and §3605(a) of the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII, Civil Rights Act of 1968). Webster defines disparate as, “markedly distinct in quality or character.”

Judge Fitzwater found that TDHCA had the power to fix this and had to take corrective action to remedy the disparate impact. He noted in his opinion, “Nor is there a basis for finding that TDHCA cannot allocate LIHTC in a manner that is objective, predictable, and transparent, follows federal and state law, and furthers the public interest, without disproportionately approving LIHTC in predominantly minority neighborhoods and disproportionately denying LIHTC in predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods.”

Following the court’s ruling, TDHCA quickly came up with a plan to do what the judge directed. The judge approved the plan. The agency implemented it, and, lo and behold, it worked pretty well. In the past two years, TDHCA has awarded funds to developers to build apartments all across the Dallas metro area, including places where there is no affordable housing, in neighborhoods with good schools, that do not flood, have lower crime, and better access to jobs —for the first time opening up choices to families about where they live instead of continuing to concentrate almost all the affordable housing units in distressed and high crime South Dallas neighborhoods.

This should have been the happy ending of the story. But it is not. Governor Perry and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott decided to appeal Judge Fitzwater’s decision in an effort to have the Supreme Court render fair housing enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 effectively impossible.

Attorney General Abbott’s legal argument is based on the false premise that, “…the widespread application of disparate-impact liability creates incentives for landlords, property owners, and government entities to resort to illegal race-conscious decision making as a way to stave off potential disparate-impact lawsuits. … Nowhere are these incentives more pronounced than in the housing context, where racial quotas and set-asides may be the only way for a potential defendant to prevent litigants from establishing a ‘prima facie case’ against him.”

The attorney general’s appeal ignores decades of actions by the State of Texas that produced segregated African-American apartment projects in high poverty, segregated neighborhoods. The appeal ignores the state’s actions that trap multiple generations of African-American Texans, past and future, in segregated neighborhoods with poor public services and denies families an essential tool for improving their fortunes – the option to choose the community in which to live. The attorney general’s appeal seeks to protect government entities from “resort to illegal race-conscious decision making” yet it fails to acknowledge the undisputed fact that the state itself has largely contributed to the creation and preservation of racial segregation.

Especially significant is that the state’s plan, approved by Judge Fitzwater, that has been in place for more than two years is addressing segregation without establishing any race-based quota or racial set-asides. This is the fact of the case despite the attorney general’s claim in the appeal that racial quota and set-asides are required to address a disparate impact finding.

I wish that the Texas attorney general had balanced his zeal to protect government entities from the imaginary requirement of adopting racial quotas and set-asides against the proven need to protect the interests of citizens from those government agencies denying them an opportunity to choose to live in better neighborhoods.

This is an important case. Attorney General Abbott urges nothing less than the effective repeal of the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII, Civil Rights Act of 1968) through judicial preemption of its principal enforcement tool. So long as they do not explicitly proclaim their intent to unlawfully discriminate, he would permit government agencies to allocate public funds for housing where ever they choose, regardless of the impact on the fair housing rights of citizens and neighborhoods. We have seen the impact of this policy in creating extreme racial segregation, and concentrated poverty in Dallas African-American neighborhoods. The only governmental action the Texas attorney general would consider illegal would be one accompanied by an official resolution that states, “the State of Texas resolves to take the following action to unlawfully discriminate against African-Americans because of their race.” Following the Texas attorney general’s logic, the State of Texas could legally concentrate every low-income, government-subsidized housing development in one county of the state of Texas so long as it did not formally acknowledge it was doing so to unlawfully discriminate.

This is a breathtaking assertion of the power of government over the rights and interests of its citizens. It is totally inconsistent with the prevailing values of Texans – values of limited government power that in other instances are embraced by Texas leaders, including the governor and attorney general.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in practice, as well as discrimination by design. It is not in dispute that discrimination in practice occurred in Dallas. Disparate impact has been the law of the land for almost fifty years. In Dallas it worked to help right a wrong inflicted by government policy on African-American citizens – without racial quotas or set-asides. Now, our governor and state attorney general have mounted an appeal seeking to overturn the remedy the state agency has successfully implemented and to also undo a half century of progress in fair housing. The Supreme Court must reject this misguided effort to permit government agencies to override Americans’ most basic civil rights.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013 – “Our struggle for freedom was a collective effort… It is in your hands to create a better world

“We hold it as an inviolable principle that racism must be opposed by all the means that humanity has at its disposal. Wherever it occurs it has the potential to result in a systematic and comprehensive denial of human rights to those who are discriminated against. This is because all racism is inherently a challenge to human rights, because it denies the view that every human being is a person of equal worth with any other, because it treats entire peoples as subhuman.”

Statement at a Special Meeting of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, New York.June 22, 1990

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom. The steps that are needed from the developed nations are clear.”

Speech Delivered at Live 8, Johannesburg, July 2, 2005


“Its Westchester on steroids”: HUD finds Dallas in non-compliance with fair housing laws, seeks sweeping remedies

Dallas skyline
Dallas skyline (Photo credit: dherrera_96)

“Its Westchester on steroids,” is how one civil rights advocate characterized HUD’s findings against the City of Dallas, referring to the landmark 2009 fair housing case against Westchester County, NY.

On November 22 HUD issued the result of a forty-five month investigation of the City of Dallas which concluded…

Based on the evidence obtained during the investigation, the Department has determined that the City of Dallas (“Recipient” or “the City”) is in noncompliance with Title VI, 24 C.F.R. Part I, Section 504, 24 C.F.R. Part 8, and Section 109, 24 C.F.R. Part 6 with respect to the allegations raised by 1600 Pacific, L. P. (“the Complainant” or “1600 Pacific”). Further, the City certified that its programs would be conducted and administered in conformity with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000a et seq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794, Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, 42 U.S.C. §5309, and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (“civil rights laws”).

The sweeping findings of Dallas’ multiple civil rights violations came in response to a complaint filed by Washington, DC- based civil rights attorney Michael Allen, who brought the successful 2009 federal lawsuit against Westchester County, New Yprk. The Dallas complaint was filed by Allen on behalf of 1600 Pacific LP, a partnership that sought unsuccessfully to develop an affordable housing development in downtown Dallas.

The 29 page letter of findings presents a fascinating and sordid account of the actions of City of Dallas officials.  But it is the wide-ranging nature of the violations of federal civil rights statutes on which the finding is based that is especially notable. The remedies that HUD proposes are expansive…

Based on the information set forth above, the Department concludes that the Recipient is in noncompliance with Title VI of the 1964 civil Rights Act, Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The Department will be in contact with the City to discuss voluntary resolution of the issues raised in this finding. As part of such voluntary resolution, HUD will seek that the city: 

• Develop a written long-term strategy to address siting of housing throughout Dallas that will address patterns of segregation and affirmatively further fair housing, including consideration of regional housing needs and opportunities, and include the strategy in an updated Analysis of Impediments.

• Adopt an Ordinance requiring any housing project funded through public subsidy including CDBG, TIF, and Federal Tax Credit, accept Housing Choice Vouchers or other types of publically subsidized rental assistance (e.g., HOME vouchers) in at least 25% of available units. This Ordinance or an alternative Ordinance should also prohibit the denial of applicants based upon source of income and require that ability to pay should be based on the tenant portion of the rent.

• Fund a project within the DC TIF District or Downtown Business Center that includes at least 51% of its units being offered at an affordable rate. Those affordable units should include rental structures that make units available to persons at 50% AMFI and at 80% AMFI. The proportion of the affordable units can be evenly split or can be weighted more heavily to 50% AMFI.

• Update its Section 108 loan program to more clearly reflect the program requirements, especially the national objective of 51% and monitor compliance with those requirements.

• Conduct an audit of all 108 funded housing developments to identify those developments that are not in compliance with program requirements for affordability and bring these developments into compliance.

• Encourage the development of affordable multi-family housing in areas of non-minority concentration and areas of greater economic opportunity by providing tax abatement and encouraging developers to organizations that counsel low and very low income person, including Inclusive Communities, Inc. and the resources it has to provide to them.

• Conduct a comprehensive study of the unincorporated areas of the County to determine the minimum infrastructure improvements and services necessary to create an environment equal to that enjoyed by residents living in the incorporated areas of the County (trash collection, water and sewer hookups, adequate drinking water, roads, lighting, etc.)

• Develop a 10-year plan aimed at providing infrastructure improvements and services necessary for the unincorporated areas of Dallas to function at the same level as the incorporated areas of the County.

• Provide relief for complainant consistent with the evidence.

HUD’s findings are yet another indication of the Obama Administration’s willingness to enforce civil rights and fair housing statues that have long been ignored. It is a welcome step forward for civil rights and fair housing for Dallas with implications for many other Texas cities as well.

The City of Dallas has 30 days to appeal the HUD ruling.

Thanksgiving check-in on the homeless in Texas — maybe intractable social problems can be solved after all

It seems that Thanksgiving is one of the few times many people worry about the homeless. Let’s join the crowd and take a look at the numbers of homeless in Texas.

The data comes from a HUD report  The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. First, s word of caution about the numbers. They are not very reliable. As HUD puts it, “Communities are continuously improving their data collection methods, and thus year-to-year comparisons may not perfectly reflect annual changes in homelessness within the community. ”  The data is collected by local agencies on a single night in January each year and reported to HUD. Finding and counting homeless people is not easy and the results and coverages are inconsistent. That said however, the report is useful in seeing the trend.

The report offers encouraging news about homelessness in the nation and in Texas.  The number of homeless people appears to be declining. Texas saw a 13 percent decrease since 2012 and a nearly 26 percent decrease since 2007. That is 10,173 fewer people homeless in Texas over the past six years! Nationally from 2010 to 2013 there has been a decline in the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness of 16 percent, or 17,219 people. This comes following a major effort to provide housing for the homeless during both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

So, the next time you hear others say that government action cannot solve social problems, you can point to this apparent success.

On the night the survey was conducted in January 2013, there were 610,042 people experiencing homelessness in the United States, including 394,698 people who were homeless in sheltered locations and 215,344 people who were living in unsheltered locations.

There are 29,615 homeless people reported in Texas (5% of the US total). This includes 20,758 homeless people living as individuals and 8,857 living in families. 5,535 of the Texas homeless are described as “chronically homeless” meaning they have either been continuously homeless for 1 year or more or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last 3 years. Veterans make up 3,878 of the Texas homeless. unaccompanied children or youth (<25 years old) comprise 2,072.

The Texas Tribune has a handy webpage that provides access to the numbers from the report for different Texas cities over a number of years. I pulled the following data for 2007 and 2013 from there.

TABLE A: 2007 and 2013 Data
City                 2007 Homeless  2013 Homeless   Change
Amarillo                     431            516       +16%
Austin                     5,281          2,090       -60%
Beaumont/Port Arthur         710          1,046       +32%
Bryan/College Station        289            175       -39%
Dallas & County            3,408          3,163        -7%
El Paso                    1,241          1,217        -2%
Fort Worth/Tarrant County  2,876          2,390       -17%
Houston/Harris County     10,363          6,359       -39%
San Antonio/Bexar County   2,247          2,980       +25%
Waco/McLennan County         431            295       -32%
Wichita Falls                263            302       +13%
The rest of Texas         10,636          9,082       -15%

There are a number of measures for how well a community is doing in ending  homelessness. The main one is whether there fewer people homeless. As we have noted, for the state as a whole that is the case. As Table A (above) shows the results are radically different across major metro areas. The numbers of homeless have plumeted 60% in Austin and 39% in Houston and Bryan/College Station while increasing 32% in Beaumont/Port Arthur and 25% in San Antonio.

TABLE B: 2013 Data
City                      Homeless  Sheltered  Unsheltered  Chronic
Amarillo                     516       468        48  (9%)    122
Austin                     2,090     1,325       765 (36%)    458
Beaumont/Port Arthur       1,046       376       670 (64%)    159
Bryan/College Station        175       136        39 (22%)     28
Dallas & County            3,163     2,912       251  (8%)    502
El Paso                    1,217     1,036       181 (15%)    131
Fort Worth/Tarrant County  2,390     2,109       281 (12%)    226
Houston/Harris County      6,359     3,381     2,978 (47%)  1,309
San Antonio/Bexar County   2,980     1,737     1,243 (42%)    621 
Waco/McLennan County         295       230        65 (22%)     39 
Wichita Falls                302       253        49 (16%)     86 
The rest of Texas          9,082     3,562     5,520 (61%)  1,863

A second measure is the percentage of the homeless population living in the community who are sheltered. I calculated in Table B (above) the percentage of homeless persons sheltered. It is clear that Dallas and Amarillo are doing the best job and Houston, San Antonio and Beaumont/Port Arthur are doing the worst.

The place that really is falling short is the area of Texas outside the large metropolitan areas where 61% of the homeless are not sheltered. HUD points this out in this year’s report. Texas ranks third worst among all states in sheltering homeless in non-metro areas.

I don’t claim to be a homeless expert but here is how I interpret this data.

  1. Austin has somehow managed to dramatically reduce its homeless population, with Bryan/College Station and Houston also doing well in this regard.
  2. Dallas intervention strategies for the homeless, led by the Mayor through the outstanding facility called The Bridge are working and other cities should pay attention to what Dallas is doing.
  3. Houston and San Antonio need to take another look at their strategies because they clearly are falling short.
  4. The State needs to help get the homeless in the non-metro areas housed because current strategies are not working.
  5. Overall, there is real progress being made nationally and in Texas (assuming these numbers can be believed). It shows that what are conceived as intractable social problems can be addressed it the country has the will to take them on.
  6. Chronic affordable housing problems in the nation and in Texas dwarf the numbers of the homeless. While Texas has 29,615 homeless people it has 597,941 extremely low-income households (probably more than 1.5 million persons who rent their homes and are paying more than half of their meager income for rent. Texas has an additional 297,712 extremely low-income, owner occupied households (approximately 900,000 people) with a substandard housing condition or overcrowding problem. These impoverished Texans living with severe housing problems are 81 times the number of persons currently homeless in Texas. While the number of homeless is declining, the number of Texas with housing problems is growing rapidly. Addressing their needs as we continue to make progress on the homeless problem is vital to Texas.