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A neighborhood’s new anti-Section 8 rules will push many Black residents out of a North Texas suburb

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Posted at 10:59 AM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 11:59:06-04

PROVIDENCE VILLAGE — By the time Revisha Threats moved into a two-story home in this North Texas hamlet last year, she had filled out more than 100 applications to find a home for her and her four children.

Threats, 31, said she wanted a home “somewhere good and humble for my kids” as she tried to escape an abusive relationship in Atlanta. She considered joining her sister in California but worried she couldn’t afford that state’s high rents, even with help through the federal housing choice voucher program, widely referred to as Section 8, that subsidizes a portion of a low-income household’s rent.

Then Threats’ sister turned her attention to the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth. The rent was affordable, and according to her sister’s research, crime was low. Threats said she applied to live in more than 100 houses and apartments, but none would accept her. Texas is one of the few states that allows landlords to reject renters if they receive housing vouchers.

Finally, Threats found a landlord in Providence Village, a town of about 7,700 people less than an hour’s drive north of Dallas, who accepted vouchers — and she and her kids left Atlanta with four suitcases, bound for Texas.

Threats said she fell in love with Providence Village. She started a business cleaning neighbors’ homes. Her kids were happy. Her daughter had been withdrawn since her father died in 2015, and retreated even further from friends during the pandemic. But in Providence Village, she “opened up,” Threats said.

“I was at peace, I was happy,” Threats said. “The neighbors, they treated us like family.”

But after less than a year, Threats and her family must once more pack their bags and move elsewhere.

In the months after Threats moved in, homeowners began to turn against the neighborhood’s Section 8 renters — who are predominantly Black. In private Facebook groups, they increasingly blamed tenants for a perceived uptick in criminal activity in Providence Village.

The wave of anti-Section 8 sentiment peaked in June, when the Providence Homeowners Association’s board passed a rule effectively banning Section 8 renters from living in the neighborhood — a move that will displace more than 150 families from the majority-white enclave.

Black families make up 93% of the 157 households with Section 8 vouchers living in Providence Village, according to the Dallas and Denton housing authorities. Women head all but five of those households.

Section 8 tenants have to leave Providence when their current leases end, according to the new rule. The homeowners association and the town are legally separate entities but share much of the same territory. That means within a year, an entire Texas town will mostly be off limits to voucher holders.

Low-income housing advocates have blasted the ban as racial discrimination. Soon after the rule was on the books, a trio of advocacy groups — Texas Housers, Texas Homeless Network and United Way of Denton County — called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether the rule violated the federal Fair Housing Act.

“This basically says that ‘there’ll be no Section 8 in our city,’” said Ann Lott, executive director of the Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project. “So for years, we’ve had to deal with the homeowners saying ‘not in my neighborhood.’ But now we have a move afoot that says ‘not even in our city.’ That’s concerning.”

There’s nothing in state or federal law that forbids homeowners associations from enacting such bans, legal experts say, although it’s unusual for HOAs to enact them. The Texas Tribune identified two other Dallas-Fort Worth-area homeowners associations that ban voucher holders.

“I’ve literally read through thousands” of homeowners associations’ rules, said Gregory Cagle, a lawyer who deals with HOA law. “It’s not common.”

Providence HOA leaders have not publicly explained their rationale for the Section 8 ban, according to tenants, landlords and others who spoke with the Tribune. Officials with the HOA, including board President Jennifer Dautrich, and Providence Village Mayor Linda Inman did not return requests for comment.

Families now are scrambling to find new places to live — and to do so before school starts. As Threats discovered, such housing can be difficult to find in Texas, where a 2015 state law essentially allows landlords to ban Section 8 recipients.

A 2017 report by Inclusive Communities Project found that out of 1,900 properties surveyed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, only 226 accepted vouchers — predominantly in areas that are poor and Black. No apartment complex in 26 Dallas suburbs — nearly all majority-white — surveyed by the organization accepted vouchers, the survey found.

“The lack of 150 homes available for voucher tenants is a very severe effect,” said Laura Beshara, a civil rights lawyer representing some of the Providence Village tenants. “The families are going to have a very hard time finding housing.”

Advocates and tenants, however, worry that other homeowners associations will copy the Providence HOA and enact their own bans on renting to voucher holders.

A street in Providence Village. The neighborhood was constructed beginning in 2000 and incorporated as a municipality in 2010. It now has about 7,700 residents. Credit: Emil Lippe for The Texas Tribune

“Your neighborhood’s too perfect”

Huffines Communities — the Dallas real estate firm founded by Don Huffines, the former Republican state senator who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Greg Abbott in this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary, and his brother Phillip — first began developing the neighborhood in 2000.

Providence “reflects the Huffines’ dedication to providing a lifestyle that embraces family traditions in their home and creates lasting memories,” the company’s website says.

More than 5,000 people lived in the subdivision by 2010, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. That year, residents voted to incorporate Providence Village as its own municipality.

The neighborhood feels like a beachside resort, with large, white-trimmed houses and manicured lawns lining narrow, winding streets. The neighborhood is dotted with artificial lakes and features a water slide, pools and jogging trails.

Nearly three-fourths of its residents are white, 17% are Hispanic and 7% are Black.

“Even when I have friends come over, they’re like, ‘Your neighborhood’s too perfect, you might need to just be careful,’” Threats said. “I never saw it coming, how ugly it was behind closed doors.”

To Evette Townsend, the town has always been unwelcoming. She and her six children, who moved to Texas from Milwaukee in 2018, lived in nearby Paloma Creek until last year, when their landlord sold the house. Townsend wanted to stay in the same school district and managed to find a home in Providence Village.

About a month after her family moved into their new home in December, Townsend’s 17-year-old son and two friends visiting from Frisco drove to 7-Eleven to pick up snacks for a movie night.

Less than 10 minutes later, Townsend saw flashing police lights through the window. She ran outside to find a police officer with the Aubrey Police Department, which patrols Providence Village, pointing a stun gun at her son’s friends. The officer told Townsend that her son and his friends ran a stop sign and were driving recklessly through the neighborhood. Another told her they were speeding at 45 mph through an alley. At least six officers showed up to the scene.

After that, police officers would “pop up” at her house for no apparent reason, Townsend said. Officers pulled her son over several times while he drove her black Chrysler 300 around town, she said. Townsend said an officer pulled her over once in the neighborhood for speeding in a school zone — and told her that her Chrysler was a “high-profile car.” As soon as school let out, Townsend’s son left for Milwaukee for the summer.

“It looks like a nice neighborhood to live in,” Townsend said. “But we never got the welcome or never got a chance to experience any of that.”

“Only so many should be allowed”

Providence Village residents and landlords — as well as lawyers and housing advocates who have become involved — trace the rising anti-Section 8 sentiment over the last year to last summer, when a 14-year-old Black teenager stabbed a 16-year-old white teenager at a neighborhood basketball court.

Word spread through the neighborhood that the teenager who was arrested was from a Section 8 household.

Since then, according to renters who spoke to the Tribune, it’s become common for Section 8 tenants to be blamed online for anything that goes wrong in the neighborhood.

In the wake of the basketball court stabbing, people in private Facebook groups geared toward Providence Village began to try to figure out how many Section 8 tenants lived in the HOA. At some point, a map of houses rented to Section 8 tenants circulated around the neighborhood.

Eventually, residents in the groups began to discuss ways to get rid of Section 8 renters altogether — although HOA leaders at first seemed to reject the notion.

Dautrich, now the HOA’s board president, wrote in one Facebook comment thread in October that she believed Section 8 “is a good resource but should have a timeline and only so many should be allowed in any neighborhood,” according to screenshots in videos posted on Threats’ TikTok account. Still, lawyers told HOA board members “there is nothing we can do” about landlords renting to Section 8 tenants in the neighborhood, Dautrich wrote.

By June, that thinking had changed. The HOA board first passed a rule to fine landlords $300 a week if they rent to Section 8 voucher holders — a move that drew applause at a June 6 public meeting.

Landlords with several properties in Providence Village fretted about how they would bear the brunt of an additional $1,200 a month per tenant.

After an outcry from tenants and housing advocates, as well as local media attention — including multiple stories by the Denton Record-Chronicle — the association changed direction and delayed enforcement of the new rule. Tenants who signed a 12-month lease before the rule went into effect can stay on through the end of the lease. Those on a month-to-month lease can stay until mid-September. After that, landlords must pay the fine if they rent to Section 8 tenants.

Because the Section 8 ban overwhelmingly affects Black residents, it likely violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race, said Beshara and Mike Daniel, the lawyers representing Providence Village tenants.

“That’s pretty functionally equivalent to being able to say, ‘You’re Black, get out,’” Daniel said of the ban.

“We want what’s best for our families”

The Section 8 ban is part of a broader package of rules passed by the HOA board aimed at discouraging real estate investors from buying homes in the neighborhood and turning them into rentals.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and historically low interest rates, investors and corporations — often referred to as “institutional buyers” — began buying more homes with the intent of renting them out or flipping them.

Last year, Texas was the top target in the nation for investors. Home purchases made by investors accounted for 28% of all home purchases in the state in 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors — a higher percentage than in any other state. In Denton County, where Providence Village is, that figure was 39%.

Under the new rules, a new homeowner must live in their home for two years before they can rent it to a tenant — and a lease has to last longer than 90 days. A landlord can own only one rental home at a time.

Jenny Hersey, a mortgage underwriter who moved to Providence Village in 2008, supported the rules package out of worry that investor activity would make the neighborhood unaffordable, she said.

Hersey said she empathizes with voucher holders who will have to find a new place to live but noted that the HOA is letting tenants stay through the end of their leases — and that housing authorities are helping tenants relocate.

“I don’t want to say I’m in support of the Section 8 ban — I’m in support of the overall rental restrictions and the fact that our neighborhood needed those and something needed to be implemented,” she said, adding that the homeowners elected HOA officers to do what’s best for the community.

“They’ve got families here as well. So we’re all in this together as we want what’s best for our neighborhood, we want what’s best for our families,” she said.

Two other homeowners associations developed by Huffines Communities have enacted similar bans — Savannah HOA, also in Denton County, and Heartland Community Association in Kaufman County, about half an hour east of Dallas.

While in the state Senate, Don Huffines made it easier for landlords not to rent to voucher holders. In 2015, he backed a bill that prohibited cities and counties from forbidding landlords from refusing to tenants who receive Section 8 assistance — a pushback to attempts by local officials in Austin and Dallas to do so. Abbott signed the bill into law.

Don Huffines directed a Tribune reporter’s request for comment to a spokesperson. His brother Phillip, co-owner and co-founder of Huffines Communities, said the company sold the last lots at Providence a decade ago and is no longer involved in the development. The decision to ban Section 8 tenants is up to each homeowners association, he said.

“They decide, that’s up to them,” Phillip Huffines said. “That has nothing to do with us.”

Evora Sykes at her home in Providence Village on June 30. Credit: Emil Lippe for The Texas Tribune

“They want their neighborhood back”

Many tenants aren’t sticking around as they try to get into new homes by the beginning of the school year. One landlord who asked not to be identified because they still own several properties in the neighborhood and fear harassment said some of their tenants have already relocated.

Threats said she thought she would stay in the neighborhood longer — but she said the situation has taken a toll on her mental health. Her cleaning business fell apart after one client falsely alleged on social media that Threats had charged her twice for one cleaning, Threats said. The woman later apologized, she said, but the damage was done.

At one point, neighbors found a news article detailing Threats’ 2019 arrest on charges of credit card fraud in Alabama — featuring her mugshot — and shared it in one of the neighborhood Facebook groups.

In late June, she started buying moving boxes and looking for a new home. Her landlord had one available in Dallas, where she plans to rebuild the cleaning business.

“I know that I’m supposed to be excited and happy,” Threats said. “I am, but a part of me is still heartbroken.”

Evora Sykes moved to Texas from Arkansas with her two children four years ago seeking opportunity, landing in Providence Village in 2018. She worked as a shuttle driver at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport until September, when she caught COVID-19.

Sykes planned to move next year, but the ban changed her plans. On a day in late June, boxes and bags full of belongings lined the hallway of her two-story home. On the front porch, Sykes had put out pillows, plates, towels and other household items for sale.

Days after the ban took effect, Sykes hosted a cookout with Townsend and Threats at her house, hoping to blow off some steam.

It didn’t take long for tensions to flare again. Sykes’ neighbor — who had recently trolled Sykes and Threats in a Facebook post — began taking photos of the cars parked outside her home. When Threats confronted the neighbor, a shouting match erupted — prompting the police to show up and ticket both Threats and the neighbor.

Sitting in Sykes’ garage — out of view from hostile neighbors — Sykes and Townsend shared their plans. Townsend is moving closer to Fort Worth. Sykes is moving elsewhere in the D-FW area but won’t say where, fearing that harassment will follow her.

“They claim they want their neighborhood back,” Sykes said. “That’s what some of us are doing. We’re in the process of giving them their neighborhood back.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/21/texas-hoa-bans-section-8-providence-village/.

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