Galveston, TX – Lone Star Legal Aid is going to Washington, D.C. to fight for Sandpiper Cove tenants in Galveston, Texas. On Tuesday, June 30, 2020, LSLA’s Fair Housing team and housing civil rights lawyers Mike Daniel and Laura Beshara of Daniel & Beshara, P.C. filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for intentional discrimination and its failure to relocate tenants after the property failed inspections and received a Notice of Default.

Rule-24 CFR 886.323 of the Code of Federal Regulations states that when a property participates in the project-based rental assistance program and it receives a Notice of Default, HUD shall provide a remedy for those tenants. Specifically, if the family wishes to be rehoused in another dwelling unit, HUD shall provide assistance in finding such a unit for the family. In the case of Sandpiper Cove residents, HUD won’t let them move with a tenant choice voucher, despite the fact that these vouchers help families rent houses and apartments throughout Galveston. HUD’s failure to provide assistance to these tenants violates its habitability regulations and its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing under the Fair Housing Act.

“Sandpiper Cove is another horrific example of HUD using federal money to continue to segregate Black tenants in awful conditions,” said Laura Beshara.

Tenant and plaintiff, Betty Dergin, has lived at Sandpiper Cove since the early 1980s. There are a number of issues in her apartment like water leaks, defective plumbing, and roof problems. Slugs regularly appear in her home, entering through the kitchen sink. There are frequent power surges in the living room that have damaged electronics and there is mold present no matter how clean she keeps her home.

“Our lawsuit explores why HUD is forcing predominantly minority residents to live in horrendous conditions at Sandpiper Cove. HUD itself documented the conditions in its Notice of Default. Our position is that it is pretty clear HUD is deliberately discriminating against our clients on the basis of their race,” said Paul Furrh, LSLA’s CEO.

Out of the 192 units on the property, over 80% are occupied, with tenants living in conditions similar to Ms. Dergin. Sandpiper Cove’s tenants are predominantly African American.

“I think that Sandpiper Cove needs to be torn down and they need to stop putting people in these mold-infested houses…Lone Star Legal Aid has done a great job, you’re the only ones who showed us you care,” said Dergin.

“Living conditions at Sandpiper Cove are not fit for human habitation. Residents deserve justice, and more importantly, a safe, clean, decent place to call home,” said Velimir Rasic, an attorney on the case.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Dergin and her fellow Sandpiper tenants asks for a review of HUD’s administrative procedures as a result of its failure to rehouse tenants after issuing a Notice of Default to the property. Based on the analysis of factors set forth in the Arlington Heights Supreme Court case, the lawsuit also alleges intentional discrimination.

“HUD’s funding of Sandpiper Cove is a shameful use of taxpayer money that keeps tenants in unlivable conditions in violation of HUD regulations and the Fair Housing Act,” says Kimberly Brown Myles, Manager of LSLA’s Fair Housing team.

Read the full complaint here.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org