An open letter to Governor Abbott: Veto SB 267 and protect fair housing in Texas

After the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 267, which outlaws local ordinances prohibiting discrimination against people who receive federal housing assistance, we delivered a letter to Governor Greg Abbott’s office, asking him to veto the bill. As of this writing, the governor has not taken any action on SB 267, which was sent to him on May 30. He has until June 21 to sign or veto legislation from this past session.

Here are the reasons why we think the governor should veto SB 267, as articulated in a letter from our co-director, John Henneberger:

Dear Governor Abbott,

I write today to urge you to veto SB 267, legislation barring Texas cities from taking appropriate steps to prohibit discrimination against families using Housing Choice Vouchers.

Permitting this legislation to go into effect both dishonors the strong tradition of “home rule” in Texas, and puts the State in violation of its own obligations to affirmatively further fair housing (embodied in federal law and a May 2010 Conciliation Agreement that is still in force). In fact, in that Conciliation Agreement, the State leveraged its own authority by requiring landlords receiving Disaster Recovery funds to accept Voucher holders in the same fashion as under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. It is, therefore, inappropriate that the State would take that option off the table for jurisdictions who deemed such protections to be essential to their own civil rights obligations.

In its Phase 1 Disaster Recovery Analysis of Impediments and in its 2013 State of Texas Plan for Fair Housing Choice, the State recognized barriers to mobility and fair housing choice experienced by Voucher holders, and proposed to take a number of steps to overcome those barriers.  Rather than overcoming those impediments, the enactment of SB 267 would, in fact, erect a new impediment throughout the State. It would effectively bar jurisdictions from carrying out their own “affirmatively furthering” obligations by overcoming fair housing impediments in their own jurisdictions. And it would require the State to update its Plan for Fair Housing Choice to advise HUD of the effect of this legislation.

By vetoing SB 267, you can ensure that the State remains in compliance with its obligations under federal law and the Conciliation Agreement. Inasmuch as the State’s annual application for all HUD Block Grant funds depends on its truthful certification that it is taking steps to affirmatively further fair housing, the State’s next application for such funds would be imperiled if SB 267 were to go into effect. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

John Henneberger
Co-director
Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

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