Texas legislature rejects adoption of federal fair housing law

The 1968 Fair Housing Act requires that HUD and other federal agencies, as well as their grantees further fair housing. The courts have recognized that this “affirmatively furthering” duty requires HUD to “do more than simply not discriminate itself; it reflects the desire to have HUD use its grant programs to assist in ending discrimination and segregation, to the point where the supply of genuinely open housing increases.”

On January 17, 1994 President Clinton issued Executive Order 12892 directing federal agencies to take steps to comply with the law and establishing the “President’s Fair Housing Council”, chaired by the Secretary of HUD to coordinate with a host of other federal agencies to ensure that these efforts are being carried out.

During this session of the Texas Legislature we worked with House Urban Affairs Committee Chairwoman Yvonne Davis and Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee Chairman Royce West to develop state legislation that would mirror the existing federal requirements for state agency coordination to further fair housing. When early vetting of the bill began to encounter opposition from state officials, Senator West, with our support, proposed simply to enact into state law the provisions of the existing federal law, stating it is the duty of state government to “affirmatively further fair housing”. The bill literally tracked existing federal law word for word.

Both the House (HB 4094) bill (which retained the requirement that state agencies coordinate their efforts to affirmatively further fair housing) and the Senate (SB 1943) bill (which simply restated the more general federal duty to affirmatively further fair housing in state law), despite both sponsors’ strong efforts, failed to pass.

Many people would think that over 40 years after the enactment of the fair housing law Texas state government would view compliance as uncontroversial. They would be wrong. As proof that some in the Texas Legislature remain hostile to the concept of fair housing consider the fate of Senator West’s modest bill.

The simple acknowledgment of a 40-year-old federal civil rights law proved to be too much for some in the Texas Senate. The bill sat on the Senate Calendar for weeks with a “hold” placed on the bill through the arcane and somewhat secretive rules of the Senate.

Chairwoman Davis’ bill was reported out of the Urban Affairs Committee (which she chairs) but failed to make it to a vote on the House floor. It too died in the calendars process.

There are two lessons to be learned here. First, fair housing remains controversial to this day and some state political leaders remain actively opposed to compliance with this basic civil rights law. Second, this suggests that the State of Texas may not be in compliance with federal requirements to “affirmatively further fair housing” and is possibly in violation of the law. One need only look at the failure of state housing programs to develop housing opportunities in many “high opportunity” neighborhoods to see evidence of the fair of fair housing in our state.

The Legislature has repeatedly enacted into law extensive notification requirements to homeowners associations of proposals to build affordable housing. The Legislature has also assigned a virtual veto to these homeowners through awarding negative points in scoring affordable housing proposals if the associations object to a proposed housing development. These actions by the Texas Legislature guarantee that affordable housing (and through it fair housing opportunity) will be blocked from many of the state’s more desirable neighborhoods.

When the effect of these laws are pointed out the sponsors vehemently deny they are denying fair housing opportunities. But they are. As former Senator Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), an original co-sponsor of the Fair Housing Act observed years ago:

“What adds to the murk is officialdom’s apparent belief in its own sincerity. Today’s Federal housing official commonly inveighs against the evils of ghetto life even as he pushes buttons that ratify their triumph — even as he ok’s public housing sites in the heart of Negro slums, releases planning and urban renewal funds to cities dead-set against integration, and approves the financing of suburban subdivisions from which Negroes will be barred. These and similar acts are committed daily by officials who say they are unalterably opposed to segregation, and have the memos to prove it. . . . But when you ask one of these gentlemen why … most public housing is still segregated, he invariably blames it on regional custom, local traditions, personal prejudices of municipal housing officials.”

The State of Texas has rejected the mear adoption of federal fair housing law. That should cause the federal government to take note and compel Texas to begin to affirmatively further fair housing instead of continuing to erect barriers to this basic civil right.