Federal Judge issues sweeping order, demands HUD and DHA desegregate Dallas public housing

In the landmark ruling in a class action lawsuit, a federal judge, in April, ordered the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) to institute a plan that would desegregate Dallas' public housing. A plan proposed by HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros would accomplish two of the goals set forth by the judge: (1) improve the quality of living for residents of the Lakewest Developments (the West Dallas Housing Project); and (2) promote desegregation in DHA programs.

The case was filed by Debra Walker, a resident in Dallas public housing, in 1985, claiming that poor Black families were trapped in a "separate and unequal" housing system. The plaintiffs' case revolved around four "vestiges" of racial segregation in DHA's low income housing programs:

  • 92 percent of the Black households in DHA's non-elderly public housing projects were packed into Black concentrated neighborhoods where the poverty rate exceeded 40 percent. Overall, 98 percent of all of DHA's public housing units were in these segregated, high poverty neighborhoods.
  • The units, projects, and neighborhoods available for Black occupants of DHA's public housing projects are substantially inferior to the conditions in which low income Whites receive HUD assistance.
  • 59.2 percent of the Black households on DHA's Section 8 certificate and voucher program live in predominantly Black or racially concentrated and low income areas. Only 21 percent of the Black households receiving Section 8 assistance lived in predominately White, middle class areas. Nearly 46 percent of White DHA Section 8 households live in predominantly White, middle class areas.
  • The neighborhood conditions for a majority of the Black Section 8 participants are substantially inferior to the conditions in which low income Whites receive HUD assistance. Also, conditions for the majority of Black residents receiving Section 8 assistance are inferior to Whites not receiving Section 8 assistance who pay similar amounts of rent.

Upon validating the plaintiffs allegations, the court ruled that HUD and the DHA had a role in maintaining and perpetuating racial segregation in Dallas' public housing program. Cisneros submitted several plans to Federal Judge Jerry Buchmeyer that would help to eliminate the segregation problem in Dallas. Buchmeyer selected what he thought was the "best Cisneros plan" and included it in his remedial order which was handed down on April 16. Among other things, the Cisneros plan called for $67.2 million in HUD money to improve the quality of living and end the segregation in Dallas' public housing.

Buchmeyer also gave explicit instructions for HUD to follow to eliminate the vestiges of segregation in Dallas. To help move Blacks out of impoverished, racially concentrated areas, Buchmeyer ordered HUD to take the following measures:

  • Demolish 2,630 units in DHA's West Dallas project and provide one-for-one replacement units.
  • Provide Section 8 certificates to 698 more families (for a total of 2,033 units).
  • Create 774 new public housing units in predominantly White Dallas neighborhoods and the suburbs.
  • Create housing alternatives in areas surrounding Dallas, including suburbs in Dallas County.
  • Distribute notices annually of all available public housing opportunities in Dallas County including the name and telephone number of the person who is responsible for accepting applications for housing.

Two days after the order was handed down, DHA president Alphonso Jackson told the Dallas Morning News that none of the suburbs in Dallas County have agreed to work with HUD and DHA to create new public housing opportunities outside Dallas' city limits.

Attorney Mike Daniel told the Dallas Morning News that suburbs only want to keep poor Blacks out.

To help improve areas in Dallas where most of DHA's housing projects are located, HUD was ordered to:

  • Maintain separate management staffs for each new public housing project.
  • Place air conditioning in all public housing units.
  • Create a DHA public safety division to supervise safety patrols in every DHA public housing development.
  • Start and maintain youth gang intervention programs at each family public housing development.
  • Install laundry facilities at all DHA low-rent public housing developments.
  • Hire a landscaping company to do landscape work at DHA projects and install irrigation systems to maintain the landscape.
  • Begin supervised after-school study and tutoring programs at each family project.
  • Begin "Headstart" programs for children ages three and older.
  • Post at least two off-duty police officers at the Lakewest Shopping Center between the hours of 8:00 am and 10:00 pm.
  • Install security cameras at the entrances and exits of each DHA building.
  • Open resident-operated co-op convenience and grocery stores and provide necessary facilities and management assistance.
  • Open youth sports centers at or near housing projects and provide necessary equipment and staff.

To allow Blacks in the Section 8 program to move to desegregated areas, Buchmeyer ordered HUD to:

  • Provide $300,000 per year for mobility services for Black applicants to the Section 8 program.
  • Set and approve Section 8 Fair Market Rent and Voucher Payment levels according to the need to end segregation in Section 8 housing.
  • Provide 1,000 Section 8 vouchers to the city of Dallas to further its attempt to end segregation.

To improve the neighborhood conditions of Black Section 8 participants to a level equal to White Section 8 participants, HUD was ordered to:

  • Take into account the need to improve neighborhood conditions in its administration of the federal programs for housing and community development in Dallas County and surrounding areas.

Buchmeyer advised HUD that the court would maintain jurisdiction for 10 years and would extend that jurisdiction if HUD had not fulfilled the specific obligations set forth in the remedial order or if DHA's low income public housing programs have not been reasonably desegregated. Buchmeyer advised that if the jurisdiction was extended, the court would retain jurisdiction over HUD until DHA's public housing programs were desegregated "to the extent practical."

Buchmeyer wrote in his order that HUD's performance in the carrying out of the Cisneros Plan for desegregating Dallas' public housing will "constitute full and complete relief" for its admitted violations.

Florence Roisman, a housing law professor, told the Dallas Morning News that this case is "the most significant advance ever" in ending the problem of segregation.