EDITORIAL: Denounce racism, apologize to Becerra

2014-02-27T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Denounce racism, apologize to Becerra nwitimes.com
February 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said last week the city will save "millions of dollars" because he agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by ousted Hammond Housing Authority Director Maria Becerra.

What McDermott didn't say, but should, is that it was wrong to not renew Becerra's contract. He should also publicly apologize to her.

Becerra, who served as Hammond Housing Authority director for 27 years, said her employment contract wasn't renewed because she helped provide minority families with Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers to move into neighborhoods that were predominantly white.

Becerra had the support of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for her Fair Housing Act complaint.

The city's official position is that she was paid too much, even more than the mayor, and that it didn't look good for an employee to be paid so much to help poor people obtain housing. Also, she lived in Highland rather than Hammond.

We recognize McDermott's concern about inflated salaries. We disagree on the need to have city employees be residents of that city. Employers shouldn't limit themselves with residency limits like this.

"I decided the $200,000 settlement was much better than going through two years of expensive litigation," McDermott said. "We were told if we fight this and lose, we would have to pay both sides, which would be millions of dollars."

The city's settlement does not include an admission of guilt. Still, McDermott should clearly state for the record and to the public that he does not object to integration in his city's neighborhoods.

Racism and charges of racism have plagued this region for too long to not have McDermott loudly and unequivocally denounce the practice of steering minority families away from neighborhoods that are predominantly white.

But we want to make it clear that the Hammond Housing Authority is well within its rights, indeed its moral obligation, to provide Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers to let minority families live in areas they otherwise couldn't afford.

Housing discrimination is not only illegal but also reprehensible.

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