BEAUMONT, Tex.—There are termites everywhere in this first-floor apartment near the railroad tracks. They’re on the windowsill and in an elongated nest on the ceiling. They’re flying into water glasses and expiring there, landing on food and beds and clothing, playing a Mother-May-I game every time you turn your back.
The apartment shakes when trains go by, blowing their horns through the night, and a cement-crushing plant a block away spews up clouds of dust and residue that coat windows and front porches. The tenant, who didn’t want to give his name because he said the Housing Authority has a reputation for evicting people for petty reasons, said he tries to keep things neat, but he’s no match for the bugs, dust, and mold.
The public-housing property, called Concord Homes, is not a good place to live, and in many cities, a similar disaster would have been torn down decades ago. But the funds to do so have gotten caught up in a battle about whether federal and state government have the right to tell Beaumont to integrate its neighborhoods, a fight that seems pulled from an earlier era.
Just about every resident of Concord Homes is black and poor—the average annual income there is $6,716 per household. But when the Beaumont Housing Authority received $12.5 million of federal money to build new homes for the people who live there, the city refused to build anywhere but this particular footprint, which is located in a census tract where 87 percent of the population is black and half live in poverty. Housing advocates said that rebuilding this public-housing property in an area of high poverty, where almost all other public-housing residents live, did not “affirmatively further” fair housing, a goal that the federal government has been required to promote since the Fair Housing Act in 1968. There are also environmental hazards nearby, including the rail lines, a shuttered steel plant, and the concrete-crushing plant.