Mayor Tab Bowling said he conducted his own investigation of discrimination allegations against the Decatur Housing Authority, but it’s up to HUD to police the authority's actions.
Bowling told the City Council at a work session Monday that his investigation included talking to Executive Director Andy Holloway and the Housing Authority Board after he read about the federal Housing and Urban Development’s $200,000 fine for alleged discrimination in the authority’s senior adult apartments.
The Decatur Housing Authority owns and manages the city’s two public housing projects and three senior apartment complexes for low-income residents. It also manages 755 vouchers as part of the Section 8 low-income housing program.
In a compliance review obtained by The Daily, HUD charged Decatur Housing Authority with discriminating against Blacks who were on waiting lists for Jordan-Neill and Summer Manor apartments, the multi-story buildings that bookend Rhodes Ferry Park and offer views of the Tennessee River.
According to HUD, Blacks were instead steered toward Westgate Gardens, a Northwest Decatur housing project off West Moulton Street.
According to the compliance review, 100% of Westgate Gardens tenants were Black and 94% of Jordan-Neill and Summer Manor tenants were white.
The Housing Authority settled the claims for $200,000 — which HUD was distributing to victims of the alleged discrimination in August — and a commitment to upgrade Westgate Gardens at an estimated cost of $1 million.
In a statement last month the Housing Authority said it "has maintained from the outset that neither the DHA organization nor its employees or representatives have ever engaged in the alleged acts of intentional racial discrimination."
The statement said the Housing Authority entered into the settlement to avoid the expense of litigation.
“Most of the board members felt the biggest area of concern with the Housing Authority is the need for improvement in the record keeping,” Bowling said.
The City Council discussion began with Judise Lanier, president of the local chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority of college-educated Black women, urging the city to have “full transparency” on its findings in the case.
“We are deeply disturbed about (HUD's) findings of racial discrimination in the assignment of housing,” Lanier said. “Their findings are appalling.”
City Council President Paige Bibbee said the council “has no direct authority” over the Decatur Housing Authority.
As council members questioned Bowling about his investigation, he said, “I feel like I’m being interrogated.”
Councilman Chuck Ard said their questions weren’t meant to be an interrogation, but Bowling said after the meeting he felt he was blindsided by the discussion.
“We’re just asking questions to get more information,” Ard said.
Jackson said he was unhappy that Bowling failed to inform the council of the HUD investigation in February.
Bibbee said she’s willing to hold a meeting with the Housing Authority board, but the council can’t demand a meeting.
“All we can do is ask them if they will meet with us,” Bibbee said.
The mayor appoints the Housing Authority board members, but Bowling said the authority board and the organization then answer only to HUD. The authority board hires the executive director and assistant director.
“To remove a board member we would have to impeach the member with a hearing in Circuit Court,” Bowling said.
Ard suggested the mayor “could ask board members if they’re not doing their job to step down for the good of the city. What I want to do is make sure we don’t have a problem going forward, and have we addressed the previous problem.”
Ard said it’s important to let city residents know what the Housing Authority is doing.
Holloway and Housing Authority Board President James Ridgeway could not be reached for comment.