Mississippi Housing Advocates Sue HUD Over Hurricane Recovery Funds

Nearly $600 Million Meant for Affordable Housing Diverted to Port Expansion Project

(Biloxi, Miss. and Washington, D.C.) – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and several individual residents today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) challenging its approval of a plan submitted by Mississippi to divert $600 million of federal hurricane recovery funds from housing programs designed to address the affordable housing crisis in Mississippi caused by Hurricane Katrina to finance the expansion of the Port of Gulfport.

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress appropriated $5.481 billion of the emergency recovery funds to Mississippi. HUD’s own description of this appropriation law notes that its primary purpose is to address the critical housing needs in the hurricane damaged area, especially affordable housing needs. Administration of this funding was to be overseen by HUD under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which includes requirements that use of these funds conform to the Fair Housing Act and be used primarily to benefit low- and moderate-income people. The suit contends that HUD’s approval of a plan which siphons funds from housing programs to a plan for a major expansion of the port is contrary to the primary purpose of the Congressional appropriation and violates the requirements of the CDBG program.

Included in the complaint are claims that HUD has also approved several waivers of the requirement, for programs totaling $4 billion, that 50 percent of the funds benefit low and moderate-income people, leaving only half of the remaining $1.4 billion targeted for those persons. As a result, HUD has authorized Mississippi to drop its commitment to lower-income households affected by Katrina from 50 percent to 13 percent. In Harrison,Hancock and Jackson counties, approximately 65 percent of the housing units exposed to the storm surge and more than 57 percent of the units exposed to flooding were occupied by households with incomes below the U.S. median household income level.

African Americans in southern Mississippi are disproportionately more likely than whites to be living in poverty or in lower-income households, and are more likely than whites to be renters instead of homeowners.

“Though the storm did not intentionally discriminate, the damage did reveal the impact of decades-long discrimination against poor, African American people who were already living in substandard housing,” said Derrick Johnson, State President of Mississippi NAACP. “For the first time in our state’s history, we have the resources to right this wrong. It is a matter of priorities. Now is not the time to pull the carpet back over the ugly stain of segregation.”

“Safe, affordable housing was touted as the hallmark of Mississippi’s recovery efforts. Our choice to either fulfill that commitment or to deny options for basic shelter to thousands of low-income, elderly and disabled families will impact the vitality of coastal communities for generations to come,” said Charmel Gaulden, executive director, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center. “Katrina decimated the availability of affordable housing, especially rentals, in this area. Now, our own government is seeking to leave the least among us out in the cold. We must hold HUD accountable for a fair, equitable rebuilding effort.”

The suit seeks a declaration by the court that, prior to approving the proposal, HUD was required to review and assess the State of Mississippi’s port expansion plan to determine, at a minimum, whether the proposal complied with Fair Housing Act and low-tomoderate income benefit requirements and that HUD violated these duties by accepting the port expansion plan without conducting such a review. It seeks an order from the court prohibiting HUD from releasing or approving the obligation of any of the nearly $600 million in CDBG funds.

“Through this lawsuit, we intend to enforce HUD’s duty to ensure there will be housing choice for the thousands of households that Mississippi does not want to help,” said Reilly Morse, Mississippi Center for Justice senior attorney. “The diversion of funds intended to rebuild safe, affordable housing for low-income, elderly and disabled people has shattered the promise of making affordable housing the priority of this recovery effort.”

“It is regrettable that HUD has approved a plan that so badly turns its back on the housing needs of the most vulnerable residents in the Gulf Coast area,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “This lawsuit

is designed to correct this wrongheaded decision and ensure more federal assistance is directed to replacing and growing a diverse affordable housing stock in the areas devastated by Katrina.”

Attorneys from Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, PC are working in conjunction with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to represent the plaintiffs pro bono.

About Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of housing, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice. For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

About Mississippi Center for Justice

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. The Center carries out its mission through a community lawyering approach that advances specific social justice campaigns in partnership with national and local organizations and community leaders. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders

and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide. For more information, please visit www.mscenterforjustice.org.

About Mississippi NAACP

Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP has been active in providing civil rights advocacy for over 62 years with a mission to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate hatred and discrimination.

About Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center

The Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center (GCFHC) is a private non-profit organization. The center was established by the National Fair Housing Alliance and a group of concerned Gulf Coast citizens in 2003. GCFHC is active in 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast Counties: George, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone. The Fair Housing Center of the Gulf Coast Region of Mississippi is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws. Visit www.makeitfair.com

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