December 3, 2020

Feds say Alabama housing group segregated public housing

A federal review found that a public housing authority in Alabama let white people live in riverfront towers with scenic views and other amenities while segregating Black people in another apartment development without the frills, a newspaper reported.

A Housing and Urban Development study determined that 94% of the Decatur Housing Authority’s units in two towers with views of the Tennessee River are occupied by white people, while all the units in a housing project farther from the river are occupied by Black people, The Decatur Daily reported.

The developments provide subsidized homes for low-income elderly people. Minorities on the waiting list to get into the towers were passed over as units there were filled with white people, the report said.

Authority workers repeatedly explained the lack of Black residents in the waterfront buildings by saying elderly Black tenants don’t like high-rise buildings and prefer living in “garden-style units so they can sit on their porch and come and go as they please,’“ according to a letter from HUD.

The housing authority settled claims of discrimination for $200,000, which HUD is distributing to victims of the alleged bias, and a commitment to upgrade Black-occupied Westgate Gardens at an estimated cost of $1 million.

The HUD investigation began with the Justice Department finding patterns of housing discrimination in Alabama and Mississippi.

“Decatur Housing Authority was the most egregious,” agency spokesman Joseph Phillips said.

Two managers who oversee the authority did not return messages, the newspaper reported. The chairman of the board that oversees the agency, James Ridgeway, said neither had been disciplined.

“We don’t have nothing against them. They’ve done a good job,” Ridgeway said.

Residents of the two multistory buildings have access to a city park where events are held; walking trails; riverfront views; a library; meeting spaces; a mobile food pantry; a community kitchen and a patio, according to a letter from HUD. Westgate Gardens lacks similar amenities, it said.

Westgate tenant Carrie Garth, 76, said she welcomes promised improvements but will believe it when she sees it.

“Baseboards are coming loose from the floors. We have a problem with bugs. The buildings are old and they’re not kept up. I’ve been here nine years, and we don’t get a paint job or anything. My cabinet isn’t level so things roll off, and I’ve got a leak under the sink,” Garth said.