Katrina 3-year coverage: Helping lower-income residents recover is Mississippi's "single-greatest failure"

The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reports about 2,800 families remain in emergency housing this anniversary. According to the Clarion-Ledger:

...the state of recovery varies from city to city, person to person. Wages on the Coast have not kept up with the rising cost of housing and insurance, stalling the recovery in some quarters while others race ahead.

Rent along the Mississippi Coast has increased by more than 40%, and as Facing South previously reported, the lack of affordable housing remains one of the main barriers to recovery.

The state has put their faith in the market to correct the problem. According to the Clarion-Ledger:
For the past three years, Gov. Haley Barbour has insisted the private sector should lead Coast redevelopment, with government enabling recovery, not steering it. His administration has resisted pressure to interfere with market-driven practices.
In defending the state's use of federal money on economic development projects before the House Financial Services Committee last May, Jack Norris, executive director of Barbour's recovery office, said housing and business are intertwined.
This is a policy that has yet to deliver for renters in Mississippi, according to Reilly Morse of the nonprofit public interest law firm, Mississippi Center for Justice. He told the Clarion-Ledger that the state's efforts to help poor and working-class residents have not been enough. In fact the new report card on the state of recovery issued by the STEPS Coalition, an alliance of nonprofit groups, and the Mississippi Center for Justice found that the state's efforts at helping lower-income residents recover is Mississippi's "single-greatest failure."

The report takes the government in Jackson to task for leaving low-income residents behind in the allocation of its CDBG funding, the federal monies given to states affected by Katrina. According to the report, Mississippi:
  • has over 75 percent of its programs exempted from income targeting,
  • has spent only 13 percent of its disaster funds on lower-income storm victims,
  • lags badly in creating and implementing the programs designed to serve housing-challenged storm victims.
As the Clarion-Ledger reported, the federal government gave the state permission to spend hundreds of millions on economic development projects from a $5.4 billion grant pool normally restricted for low-income housing. The STEPS Coalition's report card concludes 83 percent of the money spent so far "primarily benefited wealthier homeowners, private utilities and insurance companies. The report also concludes that the state may be "violating fair housing laws by implementing programs that disproportionately under-serve lower-income and minority storm victims."

In a press release Morse warned that with the March 2009 FEMA move-out date looming, "the state simply does not have enough resources directed towards affordable housing. The 7,200 people depending upon FEMA for temporary assistance will have no place to go if this is not addressed. Many thousand more Mississippians outside the system, living in unrepaired homes or with relatives, will see no relief because our State doesn't think they deserve assistance."

In other Mississippi news, the Jackson Free Press asked who benefited from the Hurricane Katrina recovery. Their answer: contractors and consultants. The storm's victims haven't fared so well, the paper noted. In their 2008 Katrina Index: Who's getting the money? the paper also found:
• Pre-Katrina affordable rental housing units in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, the three hardest-hit Mississippi counties: 25,234
• Post-Katrina affordable rental housing units in those same three counties: 19,535
• Community Development Block Grant dollars allocated to repair/rebuild rental housing in Mississippi after Katrina: $260,000,000
• Community Development Block Grant dollars disbursed to repair/rebuild rental housing in Mississippi: $0
• Dollars allocated to repair/rebuild public housing: $100,000,000
• Dollars disbursed to repair/rebuild public housing: $1,000,000
• Dollars allocated to homeowner programs: $2,500,000,000
• Dollars disbursed to homeowner programs: $1,600,000,00
• Number of Mississippi families still living in FEMA trailers as of April 2008: 7,574
• Number of Mississippi families moved from FEMA trailers to FEMA cottages: 2,700
• Number of residential units damaged in "high damage" cities: 14,433
• Number of residential building permits issued since Katrina in those same cities: 4,216
• Total Katrina dollars allocated: $38,500,000,000
• Total Katrina dollars not yet disbursed: $8,000,000,000-plus
• Most important obstacle to recovery in the housing market: access to financing