DECATUR, Ala. – The Decatur Housing Authority and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development entered into a settlement addressing discriminatory practices.
As part of that settlement, DHA was required to pay $200,000 and spend as much as a million dollars to renovate one of its properties.
Decatur city officials say DHA left them completely in the dark about all of this.
We’re learning more about what appears to be a complete lack of communication between the DHA and city officials.
HUD conducted a compliance review at the end of 2019 after the Department of Justice notified HUD that there were concerns regarding apparent patterns of housing segregation in three elderly housing properties maintained by the Decatur Housing Authority. The settlement addressing discriminatory practices is dated from June of this year.
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling and several city council members say DHA never notified them about ongoing discrimination concerns or about the settlement. In fact, it was reporting from local journalists that brought this to their attention earlier this week.
Decatur city council members summed up their reaction to the settlement between HUD and the Decatur Housing Authority in one word.
“Disappointment, absolute disappointment,” said Paige Bibbee, council president.
“Speechless,” said Charles Kirby, Decatur City Council, District 4.
DHA skipped over elderly black residents on the waiting list for the towers, located on the banks of the Tennessee River, steering them toward what the report called “less desirable units at Westgate Gardens, according to the settlement.
“You never want to see in the town you love, an injustice like that,” Bibbee said.
The settlement is dated June 2020. Councilors say they are shocked that weeks have gone by and DHA never said a word to the council.
“The minute this happened it should have been brought to the council, or mayor’s office and the then council,” Bibbee said. “It doesn’t show that to me, that you’re fixing the problem very aggressively if you’re sitting on the problem and not talking about it.”
The mayor appoints DHA board members. Bibbee says the city doesn’t oversee DHA’s operations, comparing it to a school board.
“They’re not under our leadership or our thumb as you will, but we have to work together,” she said.
This is not the first time councilors say they have noticed a breakdown of communication between the city and DHA.
“Almost zero dialog. In the 9 years I’ve been here I’ve seen an article or two on one thing or another over the years, but never any interaction between the two,” Kirby stated.
Bibbee says over the course of her term she and Councilor Kristi Hill made attempts to get involved with the housing authority that were not reciprocated.
“You know we’ll get back with you if I had questions, can we meet. And you’d have to ask Miss Hill as well on her efforts. There was never a desire to make that connection,” she said.
The council president also remembers another interaction when she says they were proposing to build a structure…
“Really didn’t want the city’s insight,” She said. “It was really hush-hush and really not a good relationship there, which at that point should have been a red flag for me.”
She says from now on she will urge council members from other cities to get involved with their housing authorities.
WHNT News 19 asked council members if they think DHA board members should be removed.
“Absolutely, I think starting over is a good thing and not being ugly to any of the board members. Some may have been doing just great and not known this was happening, but to start over with a clean slate I think is very important,” Bibbee said.
“If they are practicing discriminatory actions, I don’t think there is any question. In today’s age discrimination of any kind is whether its economic, racial, whatever cannot be tolerated,” Kirby said.
WHNT also asked if they think DHA leadership should be removed.
“I think that would probably be a federal question to ask and I think that probably the answer is yes, at a federal level. But if the answer is no at a federal level, I would question that because obviously it went wrong somewhere and normally if you’re at the top, that’s where the buck stops,” Bibbee said.
“I would be open minded as far as giving them a chance to do corrective action, and I would have to say that would be a very short time span,” Kirby said.
Mayor Tab Bowling says an internal investigation has been launched to look into this situation.
The DHA board chair told WHNT that he did not tell the mayor about the settlement because he had not seen him and that the Decatur Housing Authority has nothing to do with the city.
A spokesperson for DHA told WHNT they would send a statement to us within 24 hours. That self imposed deadline has come and gone. At last check, we have still not received a statement. WHNT News 19 will continue to provide updates on this story as it develops.