Gulf Watch: Housing advocates file suit against HUD over diversion of Mississippi hurricane recovery funds

The Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and several individual residents filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) challenging its approval of a plan submitted by the state of Mississippi to divert $600 million of federal hurricane recovery funds from housing programs to finance the expansion of the Port of Gulfport.

Last month HUD approved Mississippi's plan to expand the Port of Gulfport. Facing South has been covering the controversy surrounding Mississippi's move to divert emergency federal funding from a housing program designed to address the affordable housing crisis in Mississippi caused by Hurricane Katrina.

From the plaintiff's press release:

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.
Affordable housing remains a formidable barrier to rebuilding along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Housing advocates have rallied against the State of Mississippi's decision to divert this funding away from critical housing needs. As we previously reported, advocates point out that thousands of Mississippians remain displaced nearly three years after the storms.

"HUD has abdicated its oversight role -- it has failed to ensure that housing needs of thousands of low- and moderate-income families decimated by Katrina come first," Reilly Morse, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, told the Mississippi SunHerald last month. "We have been concerned HUD would take this action and we will pursue all available options to ensure the promise of housing recovery for all is kept."

"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," Charmel Gaulden, executive director, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center said in the press release. "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 an order from the court prohibiting HUD from releasing or approving the obligation of any of the nearly $600 million in CDBG funds.