This spring, the League of United Latin American Citizens passed a resolution calling for an investigation by the appropriate federal agencies into the “disturbing trend in substandard new home construction” in the affordable-housing market. LULAC also called for subcommittee hearings in Congress on the deregulation of HUD and its lack of oversight for the past decade.
Rosa Rosales, president of LULAC, and I met for an interview in May at Bihl Haus Arts.
Rosa, in the Resolution you have asked for a federal investigation and Congressional hearings regarding substandard housing issues, singling out the Mirasol project that was funded under the HUD HOPE VI program, built by KB Homes, and administered by the San Antonio Housing Authority. Why?
As national president of LULAC, of course we want all Latinos to realize that American dream of being homeowners. So when we have a Mirasol project, you know, we were very happy that people that live in the housing project would have that opportunity to become a homeowner. We very much endorsed that. As we have seen through the years it’s become a nightmare. People thought they were buying their dream you might say, their home for the first time, and then everything starts falling apart. Then aside from that, not only is it falling apart, it’s affecting their health and that of their children. There have been many, and I’ve got to thank many groups, you know a coalition of groups, that have spoken up. LULAC has been there but not taken a stronger stand you might say, so I am very happy to say that we did pass the resolution in reference to what has happened at Mirasol and that we do want an investigation on the allegations.
What do you think would be an amicable resolution to the Mirasol fiasco?
An amicable resolution would be that the people are compensated for all their anguish, all their medical bills, everything that is done aside from the house. When we are talking about the house, what it is worth, what did they put down, so that there would be no loss in what they put in. Start from step one when `Mirasol` first started and then, aside from that, you’ve got to compensate them for all the problems that they caused because the homes were not built correctly.
I’ve heard some people say that the whole project should just be knocked down, leveled, and start from ground zero. In other words, don’t throw more good money after bad money.
I don’t necessarily think we should fix those houses. I know that many of the people at Mirasol homes do not want them. They don’t want any part of them. That having been said, then of course they should be given sufficient money to go out and buy their own homes, not necessarily repair what is damaged.
Who is going to have oversight responsibility?
Ah, that is the main issue. We must make sure that people who do have oversight would be experts and that they would be totally not connected with KB Homes at all. Not connected with the establishment you might say right now. It would have to be a total independent entity.
Talking of oversight, there is a task force that was assigned to look into the Mirasol project. It was supposed to be a relatively quick process and it’s been a year now that the task force has been working. Do you know where they are going with this?
I hear from both sides. I hear from one side that the task force is really not doing anything and then I hear from the other side that they are doing as much as possible. The problem with a task force, as you know, is that most of the time you don’t put people that are experts on it. If you just put lay persons you might have one or two, perhaps, that are experts. A task force is only as good as the knowledge that you have about what you are investigating, what you want to get to.
So then it becomes political?
We live in a very political town.
Do you feel confident that the task force will come back with anything?
Without hurting anyone’s feelings, if the task force has been in existence for a year and indeed the problems still exist, and we don’t have a plan of action, with all due respect then we would have to look to something other than this task force. Perhaps they did not have the tools, or the information wasn’t given clearly that they needed, but I do want to thank the task force for being a whole year trying to deal with a very difficult situation. On the same hand, if it has been a year it is sufficient enough that we needed some answers already and some recommendations to go forward.
And what do you think about the fact that KB Homes is involved? Is that a coincidence or do you see connections?
That’s a tricky question.
Maybe purposely asked.
In asking for KB Homes to be investigated in reference to the Mirasol project, `the investigators` would realize that there are other high-profile people that should be looked at. KB Homes is not in a vacuum.
LULAC has called for hearings on the deregulation of HUD and its lack of oversight for the past decade and the recent renewed efforts by Congress to revive HOPE VI. Where do you think this investigation might lead?
That could trickle down to everybody, to anyone who had any hand on it. That is the main purpose of congressional hearings. •