Four years on, Mississippi's misplaced priorities hamper recovery

Four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, cities and towns across Mississippi are still trying to recover, but recovery efforts are being hampered by what community advocates call Mississippi's misplaced priorities.

A new study by the Steps Coalition, an alliance of Mississippi nonprofit groups, found that the state has lowered its commitment to housing and helping low-income residents recover.

As the Coalition explains in its new report:
At the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the harmful consequences of Mississippi's misplaced priorities have become clear, and perhaps irreversible. The State has reduced its allocation for housing programs, lowered its forecasts for key affordable housing programs and abandoned plans for a full housing recovery. Between 2006 and 2008, the State reallocated over $800 million away from housing towards other purposes.
As Facing South has reported, 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, in diverting $570 million in hurricane recovery housing funds to port expansion, claimed the state's programs were on target to meet set goals and that existing programs would fully address the housing crisis. But housing advocates have long pointed out that there remain critical unmet housing needs in the state, and that thousands of Mississippians remain displaced four years after the storms.

With the release of its latest report, the Steps Coalition is calling on national and state leaders to make affordable housing Mississippi's first priority in disaster recovery.

According to the report, Mississippi:
  • has not generated a sufficient supply of affordable housing to absorb the more than 4,000 households then in the FEMA temporary housing programs;
  • lags Louisiana in its overall support for housing and rate of spending of disaster funds;
  • started later and spent down less funds more slowly on affordable housing programs
  • than for wealthier residents;
  • falls sharply below its own projections for production of affordable subsidized housing in small rental, long term workforce housing, tax-credit financed rentals and public housing; and
  • has denied compensation to thousands of lower-income wind-damaged homeowners, who now live in unrepaired housing or have been forced to become renters.
As the report points out, Mississippi plans to use lower population recovery forecasts to justify a slower and incomplete housing recovery. Current reports show that Mississippi will create some 15,000 fewer housing units from three key affordable housing programs than previously thought.

But as the Steps Coalition explains, basing housing creation on lower population estimates creates a troubling situation:
This diverts attention from uncounted and still unserved people residing on the Coast today and diminishes the Coast's ability to welcome future residents. If we don't build enough permanent housing now, all of our people will not remain, whether it is working families, retirees, or any other residents. Neither the State's recent pursuit of 5,000 housing vouchers nor its program to permanently place cottages will bridge the gap. Unless Mississippi changes direction, it will have lost a unique opportunity to both recover from our state's greatest housing disaster and close disparities in housing conditions in the poorest state in the nation.
For more information on the report, visit the Steps Coalition at