Shortly after buying some property in the Spring subdivision of Northwood Park in September 2003, James Mosbey opened up a small car wash and a "personal training and nutritional counseling" business out of his home, posting billboards outside the house and signs around the yard to advertise. Those signs sat outside for a decade without any issue or complaint, Mosbey claims. Then, in 2013, the neighborhood tried to force him out.
Mosbey's problem, according to a lawsuit filed by the Texas Workforce Commission last week, was that he just so happens to be black.
In January 2013, the Northwood Park Civic Association, a nonprofit neighborhood group that aims to "preserve the unique character of the subdivision as a desirable residential neighborhood," told Mosbey he couldn't run a business out of his home, an apparent violation of longstanding neighborhood deed restrictions. Mosbey wouldn't budge, so the neighborhood group went to the Harris County Attorney's Office, which ultimately filed a lawsuit to shutter Mosbey's businesses in August 2013.
So last year, Mosbey filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission's civil rights division alleging racial discrimination. A TWC investigation revealed that Northwood Park apparently doesn't have any issue with white business owners in the neighborhood. According to a lawsuit the commission filed against the neighborhood group on behalf of Mosbey in Harris County last week:
"[T]hrough investigation, TCW-CRD learned that three white residents operate businesses within the Northwood Park subdivision, two of whom have yard signage, but the Northwood Park Civic Association has not sought to enforce restrictive covenants against them by causing them to be contacted regarding their signage or home businesses."
To be sure, there do appear to be deed restrictions dating back to the neighborhood's first developments in the 1950s -- in addition to banning businesses, there's also the unenforceable, unconstitutional bit about prohibiting "any person other than of the Caucasian race" from living or owning property in the neighborhood. The commission claims the neighborhood group's selective enforcement violates the Texas Fair Housing Act (the state Attorney General's Office, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the commission, wouldn't talk about the case yesterday).
When reached by phone yesterday, Northwood Park Civic Association president Terri O'Leary said, "We certainly deny that there's any racial discrimination in what we've attempted to do here in our neighborhood." She referred other questions to the group's attorney, who has yet to call us back.
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