Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour won't let calls from housing advocates and lawmakers deter his plans to divert $570 million of federal hurricane recovery funds from a housing program to the expansion of the Port of Gulfport.



Barbour confirmed Thursday that he plans to go forward with the diversion of funds despite receiving a letter from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) asking him to reconsider the diversion because housing availability in the Gulf Coast region hasn't kept pace with the need.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress approved $5.4 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant funding to aid in Mississippi's recovery. Portions of the federal funds were meant to go toward programs to help low-income homeowners who suffered losses in the storm. Barbour, a controversial figure with a questionable record on Katrina recovery, claims the state's programs are on target to meet set goals. But housing advocates say there are critical unmet housing needs in the state, and that thousands of Mississippians remain displaced nearly four years after the storms.

In the past housing advocates and lawmakers have attempted block the diversion; the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and several individual residents filed a lawsuit last December against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development challenging its approval of the diversion of funds.

The State of Mississippi plans to start work on the port in July, even though recently Barbour claimed that housing is his top priority, asking HUD for 5,000 housing vouchers to help hurricane-displaced residents cover the costs of permanent housing.

Lawmakers and housing advocates call Barbour's diversion of housing funds to port expansion an example of policy that is at odds with real plans to address housing needs. In the letter from Rep. Frank and Rep. Waters, the two lawmakers said while they agreed that housing vouchers are needed to fulfill a particular housing need, without available housing units, these vouchers are useless. They call on Barbour to match his commitment to vouchers with a commensurate commitment to use existing CDBG funds to develop hard units of affordable housing.

The letter goes on to outline how Mississippi's housing development programs have fallen short of addressing the ongoing need for affordable housing, highlighting that:
  • The Small Rental Assistance Program was projected to produce as many as 7,500 units, but based on current contract awards will only yield 4,800.
  • The Long-Term Workforce Housing program was projected to produce as many as 12,850 units, but the  first two phases of that program will result in only 4,831 units.