June 12, 2020

With almost surgical precision, the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) has implemented policies and practices that perpetuate racial segregation and discriminate against communities of color. SDHC is a prime example of government-sponsored discrimination, racism, and segregation. Yet, SDHC CEO Rick Gentry just issued a statement purporting to stand with communities of color in grieving the loss of George Floyd.

SDHC purports to stand with African Americans and communities of color, yet actively enforces discriminatory policies and practices like steering, that have been unlawful since the civil rights movement. 

“It’s abhorrent and extremely opportunistic for SDHC CEO Rick Gentry to release a solidarity statement at a time when we are suing SDHC for perpetuating segregation and racial inequality. Gentry’s claim that SDHC provides families ‘opportunities to choose to live in any areas of the City that make the most sense for their families’ is contradicted by SDHC’s own data. Gentry and SDHC have already decided where families should live – in segregated neighborhoods,” says Rafael Bautista, San Diego Tenants Union.

A pending lawsuit against SDHC filed by NAACP San Diego Branch and San Diego Tenant Union uses SDHC’s own data, policies, and statements to illustrate how SDHC has intentionally discriminates against communities of color and perpetuates racial segregation in violation of federal law, state law, and its own contractual obligations. The lawsuit aims to correct San Diego’s largest subsidized housing program which serves 60,000 low-income women, men, and children.

“An unequal society fosters inequality. SDHC and other governmental entities have unlawfully discriminated against African Americans with impunity for decades. Not only is it unacceptable, it is unlawful. We have sued SDHC for intentionally perpetuating segregated housing patterns. Despite any statements put out by SDHC, SDHC’s own data shows SDHC’s policies and practices disproportionately harm African Americans who are evicted and incarcerated at a far higher rate than white individuals,” says Francine Maxwell, NAACP San Diego. 

After SDTU and NAACP San Diego Branch sued SDHC in March 2019, SDHC claimed that Rick Gentry’s repeated use of “social engineering” to derisively describe an Obama-era desegregation policy could not be used in the lawsuit to show discriminatory intent. SDHC claimed that its CEO’s statements were protected speech. SDHC, which is a government entity, claimed that if the lawsuit was allowed to move forward, it would “chill” SDHC’s “valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition.” 

SDHC also alleged that the lawsuit was not brought “solely in the public interest” because the relief the lawsuit seeks – to enjoin SDHC from perpetuating racial segregation – will not benefit the public but will benefit only non-white Section 8 recipients. SDHC’s position reflected a disturbing misunderstanding of how segregation adversely impacts all members of the community, not just racial minorities. SDHC’s position also reflected a flagrant misunderstanding of how its own program works since the relief sought will benefit all voucher recipients, not only racial minorities.

The state court rejected SDHC’s free speech arguments, finding that the lawsuit is brought in the public interest, and the statute protecting free speech does not apply to SDHC’s actions. The Court gave NAACP San Diego and SDTU the opportunity to include additional facts (data) regarding how SDHC’s policy disproportionately adversely impacts racial minorities. NAACP San Diego immediately requested the data from SDHC, but SDHC is still refusing to provide its data. NAACP San Diego Branch and SDTU filed a second lawsuit against SDHC to obtain the data. That lawsuit is also pending. 

The case is currently pending in federal court. SDHC removed the case to federal court in January 2020. This was procedurally late (over six months late) and a veiled attempt to re-litigate the same issues that were already decided by the state court judge on November 1, 2019. SDHC is again trying to exclude as evidence statements SDHC’s CEO Richard Gentry’s made referring to an Obama-era desegregation policy as “social engineering.” SDHC is trying to get a second bite at the apple, which delays the case. NAACP San Diego and SDTU filed a motion to remand, which is pending. 

Rafael Bautista
Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch
Rafael Bautista
San Diego Tenant Union
P.O. Box 152086 • San Diego, CA • 92195
619-431-1633 • info@sandiegonaacp.org
sdtenantsunion@gmail.com • 619-709-0942
Founded in 1919 after a visit by renowned author, activist and NAACP co-founder, W.E.B. DuBois, the NAACP San Diego Branch is celebrating a century of standing sentry over the civil rights of the people of San Diego. If you need more information about the NAACP San Diego Branch, please visit sandiegonaacp.org/presskitThe San Diego Tenants Union is committed to fight displacement and gentrification. We organize tenants to fight against rent hikes and fight for improvements. join us!