Mississippi Katrina Suit Challenges Funds for Port Instead of Homes

December 12, 2008

Housing advocates and low-income residents sued this week to stop Mississippi from spending a half-billion federal dollars to expand a damaged port rather than replace homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The Mississippi State Conference NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and residents sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Congressional leaders and others slammed HUD when it approved the state’s plan to steer money to the Hurricane Katrina-damaged port despite a lingering housing crisis caused by the 2005 storm.

Gov. Haley Barbour maintains expanding the State Port at Gulfport, the third-busiest container port in the Gulf of Mexico, is key to the region’s economic recovery.

The storm surge devastated Mississippi’s coast, washing away much of the affordable housing. Three years later, about 6,000 families remain in temporary housing. Housing prices have more than doubled and insurance costs have increased, forcing some to relocate.

Lee Youngblood, a spokesman for the agency, the Mississippi Development Authority, said the port project will proceed.

“It’s somewhat surprising that they would file a lawsuit, but at the same time, we’re moving forward,” said Youngblood, who said the state has dedicated $700 million to low-income construction projects.

The Mississippi agency that oversees federally funded Katrina recovery projects has said programs are under way to address the housing situation, including a $350 million plan to build thousands of homes.

The lawsuit contends that so far Mississippi has devoted only 21 percent of $5.4 billion in federal hurricane recovery funding to projects that benefit low- to moderate-income households.

HUD’s Community Block Grant Program, which provided most of the money, requires 50 percent of all spending to benefit such households.

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