Decatur Housing Authority; No Westgate Garden Apt. residents ask to join transfer waiting list

The Westgate Gardens apartment complex in Decatur is designed for low-income elderly residents. According to the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the Decatur Housing Authority steered Black applicants to this area instead of two riverfront properties.

DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - An opportunity for you to voice your concerns to those in power is now canceled.

The Westgate Gardens apartment complex in Decatur is designed for low-income elderly residents. According to the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the Decatur Housing Authority steered Black applicants to this area instead of two riverfront properties.
The Westgate Gardens apartment complex in Decatur is designed for low-income elderly residents. According to the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the Decatur Housing Authority steered Black applicants to this area instead of two riverfront properties. (Source: Eric Fleischauer, Decatur Daily)

Decatur Housing Authority Board members don’t plan on attending a public meeting they were invited to by the Decatur City Council President.

That’s according to council president Paige Bibbee.

This comes after a compliance review found the Decatur Housing Authority routinely discriminated against black residents at three of its housing complexes and paid a massive settlement over it.

Tuesday night we talked to several people who live at housing authority apartments. Both of the women say they’ve dealt with numerous problems in their homes, including sewage leaking into their units and mice infestations.

But they tell us the big problem is discrimination.

“They move the black people in and they put us in the worst apartments," Pachire Williams said.

Pachire Williams says she wasn’t surprised to find out the Decatur Housing Authority board is not planning on coming to a special public meeting that was planned for October 15.

But DHA says people are welcome to voice concerns during public comment of their virtual meetings.

“We’ll go in and ask them who do we need to talk to when we have issues and they do not say anything about, ‘oh we have virtual board meetings on this day and you can tune in and comment and leave your questions here.' We don’t get any of that," Williams said.

A three-year long HUD investigation found black residents were skipped on a wait list for the Towers riverfront units and were kept in less desirable units at Westgate Gardens.

An attorney representing the Decatur Housing Authority sent out a statement on October 13.

The statement says DHA sent letters to all the residents at Westgate Apartments during the summer, inviting them to join the transfer waiting list.

It says in part, "Unfortunately, despite this outreach, DHA has thus far received no requests from any Westgate residents to join the transfer waiting list.”

Jasmine Coudle says she wishes she could have a chance to talk to the board face to face.

“It’s easy to have a person on paper, and you just be a paper and a number. Until you’re a person and you’re talking to them and you’re telling them your problems and you’re making them feel what you feel everyday," Coudle said.

In the release DHA says, " In order to make real progress in increasing the diversity of its properties, DHA simply must receive help and support from its residents."

You can read the full press release below:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 13, 2020

Statement of the Decatur Housing Authority on Progress Pursuant to FHEO Voluntary Compliance Agreement

The Decatur Housing Authority understands that members of the public have many questions concerning the Voluntary Compliance Agreement DHA recently entered into with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. As DHA had previously noted, it did not admit any sort of wrongdoing or liability in connection with this agreement. Instead, DHA entered this agreement in order to avoid protracted litigation, which it believes would be a disservice to the community that it is attempting to serve. Moreover, DHA entered the VCA because it is and has been firmly committed to providing decent and affordable housing to those who need it within the City of Decatur, without regard to the race, color, sex, religion, familial status, or other protected characteristics of those who are in need.

Through the VCA, DHA has committed to making amends to those who believe they were mistreated, reinvesting in its affordable public housing communities, and ensuring that every member of the public understands that its properties are open to all regardless of their race or other protected characteristics. Despite DHA’s fair housing policy, tenants' individual housing preferences have contributed to unbalanced race distributions across its properties. DHA fully supports taking more affirmative steps to increase racial diversity throughout its properties. For example, the VCA attempts to encourage residents of Westgate Gardens to relocate to other properties such as Summer Manor Apartments and Jordan-Neill. It does so by allowing these residents to receive priority placement on a transfer waiting list and also to receive free transportation to and from Summer Manor and Jordan-Neill to evaluate the units there. To encourage support of this program, during this past summer, DHA sent letters to all residents of Westgate Gardens notifying them of these opportunities under the provisions of the VCA. Unfortunately, despite this outreach, DHA has thus far received no requests from any Westgate residents to join the transfer waiting list, nor have any residents taken advantage of the opportunity to receive free transportation to evaluate housing at Summer Manor and Jordan-Neill.

Similarly, pursuant to the VCA, DHA placed advertisements for a period of 60 days seeking individuals who applied for housing at Summer Manor or Jordan-Neill over a period of more than three years, advising them to contact HUD if they felt they had been discriminated against. DHA has received no responses to this program, either.

In order to make real progress in increasing the diversity of its properties, DHA simply must receive help and support from its residents and others within the community searching for affordable public housing. It cannot force its existing residents to move, but continues to do all that it can to encourage integration and to ensure that its units offer comparable, safe, decent, and affordable housing.

Apart from establishing the transfer waiting list for those seeking placement at Summer Manor and Jordan-Neill, DHA has accomplished a significant number of objectives outlined in the VCA in the few months since it became effective. Among these are the following:

· Provided letters to all tenants at Westgate Gardens notifying them of eligibility for transfer list

· Provided letters to identified individuals within the community who have previously applied for housing notifying them of the availability of a waiting list program for
placement

· Advertised DHA’s commitment to fair housing pursuant to the VCA

· Scheduled two separate training sessions with outside agencies to ensure DHA staff are very well trained on fair housing principles

· Posted fair housing signs on all properties

· Submitted for HUD review DHA’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy and Language Access Plan

· Begun development of scope of work to improvements at Westgate Gardens

· Provided copies of the VCA to all employees and encouraged familiarity with the nature and extent of DHA’s commitment to fair housing

All told, this is an exciting time for DHA and for those who need affordable housing. DHA encourages those in need of public housing assistance to come forward and seek housing with DHA.

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