HUD investigation uncovers widespread discrimination in Biloxi's public housing

The public housing authority in Biloxi, Mississippi admitted in August that it was guilty of widespread discrimination on the bases of race and disability. The Biloxi Housing Authority agreed, under pressure from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to establish a $10,000 fund to compensate victims of discrimination, relocate African-American and Vietnamese residents who were illegally steered to particular public housing complexes, and to make more units accessible for persons with disabilities.

A HUD investigation that ended in June uncovered evidence of widespread discrimination by the Biloxi Housing Authority going back several decades. The authority administers nine complexes in Biloxi, but three of them, the oldest and most neglected, had high percentages of minority residents. HUD accused the Biloxi Housing Authority of steering minority residents to these complexes, while reserving the newer, cleaner, air-conditioned, and more well-maintained complexes for white residents.

Evidence of discrimination at segregated public housing complexes was clear to investigators

During its investigation in the authority's practices, HUD uncovered the following data:

  • Forty-nine percent of the authority's residents are African-American, but 79 percent of the residents at the Bayou Auguste complex are African-American and 69 percent of residents at the Bayview complex are African-American;
  • Eighteen percent of the authority's tenants are Asian, but Asian residents account for 73 percent of the population at East End Homes;
  • African-American and Asian residents were charged for repairs more often than white residents; and
  • Despite receiving money to make more units accessible for persons with disabilities, the Biloxi Housing Authority had not done so.

Andrew Cuomo, the Secretary of HUD, condemned the widespread pattern of segregation that took place in Biloxi's public housing. "There is no acceptable reason why anyone living in public housing should be subjected to the kind of blatant and humiliating discrimination we found in Biloxi," he said.

Discrimination investigation began after HUD called Biloxi's housing authority a "troubled project"

HUD's investigation into discrimination in Biloxi's public housing followed an earlier HUD decision to declare the housing authority a "troubled project." According to HUD documents, the Biloxi Housing Authority had major maintenance and management problems.

According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, the problems led to the resignation of the housing authority's executive director. HUD also requested that Biloxi's mayor, A.J. Holloway, appoint a new board of commissioners for the housing authority.

Former housing authority board chairman accused of making racial slurs about residents and employees

Delmar Robinson, the new chairman of the board of commissioners, told the Sun Herald, "It's a disgrace that we're in this position." Robinson's chairmanship followed that of Alex Torricelli, who was forced out after referring to African-American housing authority workers and residents as "watermelon eaters." According to Robinson, "We're committed to change."

By signing a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with HUD in late August, the authority agreed to make several drastic changes. The Biloxi housing authority must pay to transfer African-American and Asian residents to other complexes as units become available. They must make drastic improvements at the three segregated complexes including installation of air conditioning units, landscaping, and dozens of repairs at each complex. The authority must also inform its minority residents of the Section 8 program, another program which has allegedly been reserved for Biloxi's white public housing tenants.

Fund will be established to repay minority residents who were unfairly charged for repairs

The authority will use the $10,000 pool established by the agreement to repay African-American and Asian tenants who were unfairly charged for repairs. Finally, the authority must translate all of its policies and information into Vietnamese, the first language of many Asian residents.

Although these changes will help alleviate the segregation problems present in Biloxi's public housing, many residents are wondering who will pay for them. According to Sun Herald reporter Brad Branan, the authority does not have the money to implement the changes in the agreement and the authority's officials have already commented that they do not know where the money will come from.