Housing discrimination lawsuit against PI dropped - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Housing discrimination lawsuit against PI dropped

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Posted: Friday, July 19, 2019 8:30 pm

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit alleging the City of Port Isabel thwarted an affordable housing project to keep low-income Hispanics out of the city’s tourist-soaked downtown.

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera said the Cameron County Housing Authority and Community Housing & Economic Development Corporation, which sued the City of Port Isabel, its City Commission and its Planning and Zoning Commission in November 2017, provided no evidence—either direct or circumstantial—that that the City of Port Isabel took any action on the proposed project to redevelop the Hurricane Dolly-damaged Neptune Apartments.

That’s because the City Commission—the final decision maker—never took any action on the proposal that never made it out of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Not only that, Olvera ruled that the City of Port Isabel’s charter prevents the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Commission from being sued.

The Neptune Apartments were badly damaged by Hurricane Dolly in 2008 and left uninhabitable, but in 2010, the Cameron County Housing Authority and Community Housing & Economic Development Corporation sought to redevelop.

The apartments, initially built in 1942, before Port Isabel adopted zoning regulations, were grandfathered in, but when damage by Dolly, that designation lapsed.

The Cameron County entities received $1.8 million in grant funding from the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council to do so, but the county officials were unable to come up with a plan that met Port Isabel’s zoning requirements.

The county’s Housing Authority and Community Housing & Economic Development said millions of dollars in federal grant funding was lost because the city wouldn’t authorize necessary zoning changes and permits for the Neptune Apartments because the tenants would be low-income and Hispanic.

The county alleged comments made by white residents during public meetings backed up that claim.

“During these meetings, the 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,’ and multi-family residents would bring ‘drugs and crime’ back to the neighborhood,” the lawsuit states.

“The public called for the development to be limited to an area called “Little Mexico,” which Port Isabel officials say does not exist.

Olvera said those comments do not qualify as direct evidence of discriminatory animus because there is no evidence Port Isabel took any action in response to those public statements.

In his ruling, Olvera said the county entities provided no evidence against the City of Port Isabel to back up allegations that it violated the Fair Housing Act, or FHA.

“Without concrete, factual evidence that Port Isabel took any official action on Plaintiffs’ request, Plaintiffs’ FHA claims are not traceable to Port Isabel,” Olvera wrote.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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