Thursday, September 13, 2007

Would Mississippi take from Katrina Victims to improve a port?

A Mississippi agency wants to divert $600 million in federal funds from a housing program created to help low-income homeowners who suffered losses in Hurricane Katrina and use it to spruce up the State Port at Gulfport, the Associated Press reports.The MDA claims that the housing program has more than enough money to meet demand, making the diversion possible. "This funding will be an important part of helping the State Port Authority restore and enhance port infrastructure for economic development initiatives that will create jobs and improve quality of life for the citizens of the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Gov. Haley Barbour said in a recent statement.

Oxfam America, the Mississippi NAACP and the Mississippi Center for Justice oppose the plan, however. "It's just unfair," Reilly Morse of the Center for Justice told the AP. "We've been told affordable housing was supposed to be a priority. Don't rob the displaced to build a port."

The Institute for Southern Studies documented in a recent report Blueprint for Gulf Renewal, that there's still a serious post-Katrina housing crisis on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Homeowners found the MDA's grant application process to be difficult and time-consuming, and many are still waiting for checks. In the meantime, there are few affordable rental units available in the region, another barrier facing internally displaced persons trying to exercise their right of return.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must approve the MDA's proposal, which is open for public comment until Sept. 24. Comments may be e-mailed to actioned@mississippi.org, faxed to 601-359-9280 or mailed to Mississippi Development Authority, Attention: Disaster Recovery, P.O. Box 849, Jackson, Mississippi, 39205.

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