New Towne draws federal criticism

Delays over housing plan brings HUD inquiry, potential feds investigation

By Shane Nicholson
Managing Editor

Delays and false starts related to the New Towne project have drawn the ire of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, as it was reported by 13 WREX Tuesday that the government body has opened an investigation into city’s housing practices.

In a letter to Mayor Larry Morrissey and Rockford Housing Authority CEO Ron Clewer from Maurice McGough, HUD’s Region 5 Director of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, the agency lays out what it believes to be a case of intentional slowing of the New Towne project.

“This review is being conducted due to the actions taken by the City Council in regards to the proposed New Towne project by the Rockford Housing Authority,” wrote McGough.

HUD says that its investigation is based on Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically that, “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The inquiry could lead to a wider investigation by the agency, resulting in the stopping of HUD funds for the city.

The mayor expressed concerns over the lack of progress on New Towne in a recent discussion with the Times.

“We had a simple vote – what should have been a simple vote – over the plat that was pushed back,” he said, referring to the City Council meeting of Nov. 9. “These stalling tactics, they have the potential to bring federal oversight to this project and to the city, whether it’s HUD or [the Department of Justice].”

Aldermen balked at a court reporter hired by Gorman being present to record the conversations at the Nov. 9 meeting, pushing back the vote for the plat to Monday of this week where it was approved.

Morrissey admitted that communication mistakes had plagued New Towne from the start, including from his own office. But the mayor said the time for such gamesmanship had long passed.

“People talk about doing a study, doing more studies. They want to delay procedural votes. We’ve passed that point,” he said.

“Gorman has presented a plan, that plan fits within the guidelines of the city, fits within the laws of the city, and so we have to move forward with that.”

City Council will take up the New Towne plat at its Dec. 7 meeting.

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