Legal Services of Eastern Missouri Sues HUD for Records Regarding Wellston Public Housing

HUD Is Violating Freedom of Information Act, Lawsuit Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and must release documents concerning the agency’s involvement in a plan to demolish or dispose of public housing in Wellston, Missouri, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri said in a lawsuit filed today. Public Citizen Litigation Group is representing the firm in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Legal Services submitted a FOIA request to HUD in November 2018 after agency officials told Wellston public housing residents that their homes would be demolished or sold, and that they would have to relocate. This announcement caused concern and confusion in Wellston, where HUD had been running the public housing authority for more than two decades. The elimination of Wellston’s public housing stock would displace about a quarter of the residents of the small city near St. Louis. Legal Services of Eastern Missouri represents the Wellston Tenant Association and individual public housing residents.

“HUD unilaterally decided to demolish or sell Wellston’s public housing,” said Lisa J. D’Souza, an attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri who submitted the records request.  “The decision was made behind closed doors without consulting the residents about their preferences and without disclosing what options exist to preserve this much-needed affordable housing. HUD refuses to acknowledge its role in creating the proposed demolition plan, and has not shared any of the information it gathered to make this decision. This information is vital to the tenants who want to remain in Wellston and hope to preserve their homes.”

HUD produced 190 pages of documents in response to Legal Services’ request, but the documents were heavily redacted. The lawsuit alleges that the agency improperly withheld the redacted portions of the records. The lawsuit asks the court to order HUD to produce the requested records without delay.

“The government’s refusal to release these records undermines FOIA’s goals of piercing the veil of government secrecy and opening agency action to the light of public scrutiny,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, one of the Public Citizen attorneys representing Legal Services. “FOIA is intended to allow regular people, like the residents of public housing in Wellston, to find out what their government is doing.”

Read the complaint.

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About Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has provided free civil legal help for low-income families for 63 years. In 2018 nearly 30,000 people in

21 counties of eastern Missouri received services from four regional offices. For more information, please visit www.lsem.org.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people – not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have more than 500,000 members and supporters nationwide.