BILOXI, MS - Two years after filing suit against the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Mississippi housing advocates are praising the settlement reached today with HUD and the State of Mississippi. The plan calls for the state to direct $132 million to disaster housing recovery of lower-income households in south Mississippi whose needs were not served by the State's previous programs.
Source: Mississippi Center for Justice
The funding, provided primarily through HUD's Community Development Block Grant program, supports the long-term disaster recovery in the wake of the 2005 hurricane. The plan includes a new Neighborhood Home program that will repair lower-income homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, either as a result of wind or flooding, and programs for qualified low-income persons to occupy Mississippi Cottages and rental housing.
"Our focus always has been to get Mississippi to finish housing first," said James Crowell, Treasurer of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP and a member of the national board of directors NAACP, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2008 against HUD that challenged the agency's approval of Mississippi's diversion of $570 million in housing funds toward the expansion of the State Port at Gulfport. "With this plan, Mississippi has committed to repair low-income households, regardless of whether the damage was caused by wind or flood. We can now make progress toward repairing and rebuilding housing in low-income African American neighborhoods that have been neglected for the past five years."
As a result of the agreement, attorneys for the plaintiffs will dismiss the appeal now pending in the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
"Safe, affordable housing was touted as the hallmark of Mississippi's recovery efforts. This agreement provides another opportunity to fulfill that commitment. For the first time, the State of Mississippi has agreed to help make wind damaged households, which were primarily occupied by the elderly, the disabled and African-Americans, whole," said Charmel Gaulden, executive director, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center. "Another important aspect of this plan is that it also extends eligibility to previously-unserved storm-damaged households as far north as Hattiesburg and Laurel."
The Neighborhood Home program will provide up to $75,000—and possibly more depending upon certain hardship considerations—worth of repairs, rehabilitation, or reconstruction to lower-income homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Other programs will provide assistance to qualified households seeking to permanently occupy cottages and to qualified renters whose apartments were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"This is a major victory for the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit as well as the thousands of households previously denied assistance who will now be eligible for the federal aid they have always needed. It is a testament to the commitment of these Plaintiffs and the willingness of all parties to work toward a pragmatic and satisfactory solution," said Larry Schoen, attorney with Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, P.C., who, together with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Mississippi Center for Justice, filed the lawsuit in December 2008, on behalf of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and four individual plaintiffs.
To increase public awareness and identify further unmet recovery needs, the State will undertake an outreach campaign across Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone, George, Lamar, Forrest and Jones counties through January 15, 2011. Applications are being accepted immediately at designated intake centers identified in the attachment to this press release. Applications will be received through January 31, 2011. For more information about program details, go to www.msdisasterrecovery.com. Residents can also call the United Way 211 Call Center to access information about the intake center closest to them. Simply dial 211 from any landline or cell phone.
"We believe this new housing program is a major step in fulfilling the unmet needs of the low-income homeowners and renters for whom we have been advocating since shortly after Hurricane Katrina," said Joe Rich, the director of the Fair Housing Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The persistence and dedication of both our clients and our affiliate, the Mississippi Center for Justice, has been truly inspiring to us."
Mississippi Development Authority's Disaster Recovery Division (MDA-DRD) will administer the program and perform outreach, with case management provided by the State's Housing Resource Centers and outreach support from community organizations.
"We are particularly grateful to HUD's Assistant Secretary Mercedes Márquez and Special Adviser Fred Tombar for bringing their on-the-ground observations of Mississippi's unfinished housing business into the discussion and resolution of this matter," said Reilly Morse, Mississippi Center for Justice senior attorney. "Over the next 60 days, we will support and monitor the outreach campaign to ensure that everyone who is eligible for consideration is made aware of this important final opportunity to complete their housing recovery."