Decatur City Council concerned about how city is handling DHA discrimination allegations

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DECATUR, Ala. – There seem to be more questions than answers for city council members concerned about a settlement between the Decatur Housing Authority and the federal government addressing discriminatory practices at its senior living facilities. City council members tried to get answers at a meeting Monday morning.

The status of an internal investigation into the Decatur Housing Authority remains a question for council members. There were also concerns raised over the mayor receiving a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development detailing the allegations against the housing authority, dated March 2020. Council members asked why they were left in the dark about the situation for months.

The HUD letter describes a 2019 compliance review investigating patterns of housing segregation in DHA’s three senior living facilities, Jordan-Neill Apartments, Summer Manor (which are known as the Towers), and Westgate Gardens.

It says from January 2017 to May 2019, HUD found approximately nine different occasions when Black applicants on the waiting list for the Towers were not offered units as they became available. They were offered units at Westgate Gardens despite being on both waiting lists.

HUD says the tenant roster for the towers indicates 94% of the units are occupied by white tenants. 100% of the units at Westgate Gardens have Black tenants.

The letter says it was sent to Mayor Tab Bowling.

Councilor Billy Jackson represents District 1, where Westgate Gardens is located. He says he is concerned he was not notified about the letter.

“It’s a letter of the accusations that are there, and its a letter regarding the violations that were reported, and so what I’m simply asking for is communication and conversation about what’s going on,” Jackson told the mayor during the meeting.

Mayor Bowling did not explain why he did not notify the council about the letter dated March 25th.

Last week the mayor said an internal investigation was being conducted to address this. But so far, council members have not been told anything about it.

“Can you tell us who you asked to investigate that?” asked Council Charles Kirby, District 4.

“I can’t,” Mayor Bowling replied. He did not answer their questions during the Monday meeting. “I’m not going to talk about any of it at this time. This is not going to turn into something political prior to an election that’s a week from tomorrow,” Bowling said.

Bowling pointed out that at this time the housing authority, which paid a $200,000 settlement, is not admitting guilt. The mayor says residents at the senior living facilities did not complain to DHA about this issue.

The settlement says the U.S. Department of Justice approached HUD with concerns about DHA. HUD conducted the review after that.

Councilor Billy Jackson says it should not matter who who instigated the investigation.

“Sometimes though people who are in this situation don’t know to complain, so it doesn’t bother me where the accusations came from,” Jackson said.

Jackson also mentioned he understands that at this time, the allegations against DHA are just that, allegations. He said he hopes it isn’t true.

The mayor told councilors during the meeting that he would be able to tell them more about the internal investigation at a later date, but he didn’t say when or why he can’t talk about it now.

During the meeting, Mayor Bowling also shared that he asked the city attorney to look into how to remove DHA board members.

Mayor Tab Bowling released a statement Monday afternoon saying he does not condone discrimination of any kind.

The statement reads in part, “As I shared with you today, I learned about the settlement from the Decatur Daily at the same time you did.  I should have received notice regarding the settlement from the Housing Authority.  I shared with today that removing a Housing Authority board member would require an Impeachment proceeding in the Morgan County, Alabama Circuit Court.”

In the statement the mayor did not address the letter from HUD or the status of the internal investigation.

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