Councilman Jerry Allen took a lot of flack for his original comments concerning the Dallas Housing Authority’s (DHA) decision to place 70 permanent supportive housing units in our neighborhood — 20 units for the formerly incarcerated in Woodside Condominiums on Forest near Walmart, and 50 units for the formerly homeless in Trinity Palms on Forest between LBJ and Audelia.

Trying to stop the process after it started, Allen told us, would be like going to the ocean and trying to stop the waves from splashing on the shore. What I can do, he said, “is sit at the table with these folks and see how we can work together to keep them accountable.”

This did not sit well with some neighbors, who raised a number of arguments as to why these DHA units should not be located in Lake Highlands, and who watched another city councilman in Oak Cliff take action and assure his residents that the plan for new permanent supportive housing units announced for his district was on hold.

Only, as it turns out, there was never a hold. This was one of the many topics of discussion when the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce invited DHA CEO MaryAnn Russ to speak at its quality of life committee meeting last week. Russ did not bring it up; in fact, when chamber president (and former Dallas councilman) Bob Stimson posed the question — “Was there a hold up? Was there not? What the heck happened?” — Russ paused and fidgeted a bit, then chose her words carefully.

She explained that 100 percent of the formerly homeless people who applied for permanent supportive housing at Cliff Manor are disabled, which makes them part of a protected class under federal law. And by law, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, for which the DHA administers housing money) cannot discriminate against a person when the person falls under this category or others (such as gender, race, religion, age or national origin).

“HUD defines discrimination extremely broadly,” Russ told the quality of life committee. “What constitutes as discrimination does not involve intent at all — you do not have to set out to treat people badly.”

“One of my jobs is to make sure everybody doing a bad job is doing it the same way,” she quipped. Otherwise HUD, and therefore the DHA, is guilty of “disparate treatment”. “We could never have treated them differently than we would any other applicant,” Russ said. Then, getting back to Stimson’s original question, “and we don’t put anyone on hold.”

Stimson then asked a clarifying question, making sure that any talk of a hold-up was, indeed, false.

“I was trying not to say that, but yes, you’re right,” Russ answered. “It wouldn’t have been legal, and the city attorney and our attorney took a good hard look at the situation and said, ‘disparate impact’.”

After its original announcement, the DHA pulled out of plans to place formerly incarcerated residents in Woodside Condominiums in Lake Highlands. Read additional comments from Russ on this topic, plus her statements on the city’s lack of authority over the DHA, Monday morning on Back Talk Lake Highlands.