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Feds Take Over Housing Authority

October 4, 2000

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) _ The federal government has taken over the city’s housing authority but acknowledged the action may not remedy racial segregation, which has plagued Beaumont for decades.

``I don’t want to suggest to anyone this is a short process,″ federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo said.

The government, taking action Tuesday, said the city housing agency not only failed to integrate public housing but fostered segregation by keeping blacks on one side of town _ all in defiance of a court order.

``That is unacceptable,″ Cuomo said.

Besides keeping blacks segregated, the Beaumont authority has placed only 40 tenants in 150 units set aside in 1992 by the federal government, he said.

``I have only had a small handful of experiences like this in eight years,″ Cuomo said.

A monitoring agency set up in a mid-1990s desegregation order by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice concluded in a recent report the Beaumont authority actually impeded desegregation by keeping blacks and whites apart, Cuomo said.

A federal manager will oversee Beaumont public housing while the authority’s counterpart in neighboring Port Arthur takes over day-to-day management, Cuomo said.

Local housing authority officials failed to return several telephone messages left by The Associated Press. But John Goodyear, who resigned last month as chairman of the authority under pressure from the federal government, said the accusations were baseless.

``Everything we ever did was approved by our local HUD officials,″ Goodyear told The New York Times. ``They sat in on all of our executive committee meetings.″

Cuomo said the federal government has tried to work with the housing authority for years, but board members did not cooperate and illegally sold off property to private interests. The authority also did not provide the government with records documenting the racial breakdown of residents.

``You cannot compromise a person’s civil rights without abridging them,″ Cuomo said. ``Civil rights deferred are civil rights denied.″

Cuomo said he was not yet sure if any charges will be filed against those associated with the authority.

Goodyear said he has asked for an inspector general’s investigation into the case.

``This is the worst case of federal abuse of power I’ve ever seen,″ he told the Times. ``Most of the problems we’ve had, and any delays in building projects, were caused by either the courts or the bureaucrats at HUD.″

William Hale, director of the Texas Commission on Human Rights, said his office has worked with the federal government to integrate East Texas public housing since 1989, when Texas passed fair housing laws similar to federal statutes.

Segregation has remained rampant throughout East Texas public housing despite mandated integration in 1964, Cuomo said. Beaumont, a city of 125,000 that is about half black, has been a focus of racial integration for decades.

In 1980, a group of blacks sued the housing authority over the issue and, five years later, courts held the federal government responsible for making sure integration took place.

This is the eighth time during the Clinton administration that a local housing authority has been seized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees 2,800 such entities nationwide.


On the Net:

City of Beaumont: http://www.cityofbeaumont.com

Department of Housing and Urban Development: http://www.hud.gov

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