Whatever you might think of his muckraking, Observer columnist Jim Schutze cannot be accused of yellow journalism. At least not when it comes to his recent editorial on Councilman Dave Neumann’s political posturing when the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) announced plans to move 100 formerly homeless people into permanent supportive housing units at Cliff Manor on Fort Worth Avenue.
This was one of the many topics of discussion when the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce invited DHA CEO MaryAnn Russ to speak at its quality of life committee meeting last week. Russ did not bring it up; in fact, when chamber president (and former Dallas councilman) Bob Stimson posed the question — “Was there a hold up? Was there not? What the heck happened?” — Russ paused and fidgeted a bit, then chose her words carefully.
She explained that 100 percent of the formerly homeless people who applied for permanent supportive housing at Cliff Manor are disabled, which makes them part of a protected class under federal law. And by law, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, for which the DHA administers housing money) cannot discriminate against a person when the person falls under this category or others (such as gender, race, religion, age or national origin).
“HUD defines discrimination extremely broadly,” Russ told the quality of life committee. “What constitutes as discrimination does not involve intent at all — you do not have to set out to treat people badly.”
“One of my jobs is to make sure everybody doing a bad job is doing it the same way,” she quipped. Otherwise HUD, and therefore the DHA, is guilty of “disparate treatment”. “We could never have treated them differently than we would any other applicant,” Russ said. Then, getting back to Stimson’s original question, “and we don’t put anyone on hold.”
Stimson then asked a clarifying question, making sure that any talk of a hold-up was, indeed, false.
“I was trying not to say that, but yes, you’re right,” Russ answered. “It wouldn’t have been legal, and the city attorney and our attorney took a good hard look at the situation and said, ‘disparate impact’.”
Taking a quick look of the Cliff Manor ordeal, from the initial town hall meeting to the seemingly pointless task force meeting to the reconfirmation that, yes, homeless people would be moving into Cliff Manor (not 100, but 50), it appears that even though Councilman Neumann and Mayor Tom Leppert assured Oak Cliff neighbors that the move was on hold, neither they nor any city officials ever had authority to do so.
Read more of Russ’s comments on the city’s lack of authority over the DHA Monday morning on Back Talk Oak Cliff.
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