By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Last week, the Cameron County Housing Authority filed suit against the City of Port Isabel, alleging it engaged in discriminatory practices in the redevelopment of a low income housing project damaged in by Hurricane Dolly in 2008.
“This lawsuit arises because the Defendants egregiously sought to exploit disaster relief efforts for the wrongful purpose of promoting housing segregation in Port Isabel,” the complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas – Brownsville Division – reads.
At issue is an apartment complex on the City’s north side known as the Neptune Apartments. The complex — which City officials say was in a state of disrepair prior to being damaged by Hurricane Dolly — and the land it sits on is owned by the Cameron County Housing Authority. In 2015, the Housing Authority sought to rebuild the housing development using federal disaster relief dollars.
The Housing Authority alleges that persistent stymying by the City of Port Isabel caused it to lose millions of dollars in disaster relief funds, ultimately ceasing any further progress on its plans to replace the Neptune Apartments with a development that would include both single family and multi-family units.
In addition, the Housing Authority’s lawsuit alleges the reason the City delayed the project was due to a desire to exclude Latinos from living in a predominantly white, and more affluent part of town. “Ultimately, however, it became clear that the real intent of the concerned Anglo residents was to prevent persons with Latino national origin or ancestry and families with children from returning to the neighborhood from which they had been displaced by Hurricane Dolly,” the complaint reads.
At public meetings held to discuss the housing proposal, residents made discriminatory remarks about potential tenants, the Housing Authority alleges. “Anglo residents also displayed their true motives, espousing classic examples of camouflaged discriminatory comments, such as not wanting ‘those people’ to come back, because the neighborhood had been ‘cleaned up,’” the complaint reads.
The Housing Authority further alleges that City officials showed support for those residents, “revealing their own discriminatory attitudes,” the complaint reads.
Ultimately, the Housing Authority argues that the City’s alleged opposition to the project constitutes a violation of federal housing laws.
For its part, the City unequivocally denies the allegations. The Neptune Apartment project didn’t stall because of discrimination, it stalled because of the Housing Authority’s poor planning, officials said Tuesday evening in response to news of the lawsuit.
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