Mississippi State Conference NAACPFile Suit Against HUD Over Diversion of Hurricane Recovery Funds

Nearly $600 Million Meant for Affordable Housing Diverted to Port Expansion Project

JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and several individual residents today filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Washington, D.C. against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The suit challenges HUDs approval of a plan submitted by the State to divert $600 million of federal hurricane recovery funds designated for affordable housing to finance the expansion of the Port of Gulfport.

“It is unfortunate that money earmarked for the recovery victims of Hurricane Katrina is now being taken away for the purpose of business development. Our suit contends that this is contrary to the primary purpose of the Congressional appropriation and violates the requirements of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program” said Derrick Johnson, State President of Mississippi NAACP.

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress appropriated approximately $5.5 billion of the emergency recovery funds to Mississippi to address the critical housing needs in the hurricane damaged area, specifically affordable housing. 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 seeks a declaration by the court that HUD was required to review and assess the State of Mississippi’s port expansion plan to determine whether the proposal complied with Fair Housing Act and low-to-moderate income benefit requirements. Additionally, the suit states and that HUD violated its duties by accepting the port expansion plan without conducting such a review. It seeks an order from the court prohibiting HUD from releasing or approving the obligation of any of the nearly $600 million in CDBG funds.

Included in the complaint are claims that HUD has also approved several waivers of the requirements, for programs totaling $4 billion, that 50 percent of the funds benefit low- and moderate-income people, leaving only half of the remaining $1.4 billion targeted for those persons. As a result, HUD has authorized Mississippi to drop its commitment to lower-income households affected by Katrina from 50 percent to 13 percent. In Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties, approximately 65 percent of the

housing units exposed to the storm surge and more than 57 percent of the units exposed to flooding were occupied by households with incomes below the U.S. median household income level.

“This is in essence creating another disaster, only it’s man-made. It’s unconscionable that HUD would approve a plan that neglects tax-paying citizen”, said James Crowell, a member of the NAACP National Board of Director and President of the Biloxi Branch and Katrina survivor. “The return of the $600 million to the housing budget would make it possible for our friends and neighbors to have somewhere to live,” continued Crowell. “That is why this lawsuit is important for those of us who are still trying to recover from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.”

“Through this lawsuit, we intend to enforce HUD’s duty to ensure there will be housing choice for the thousands of households that Mississippi does not want to help,” said Reilly Morse, Mississippi Center for Justice senior attorney. “The diversion of funds intended to rebuild safe, affordable housing for low-income, elderly and disabled people has shattered the promise of making affordable housing the priority of this recovery effort.”

Attorneys from Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, PC are working in conjunction with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to represent the plaintiffs pro bono.

About Mississippi NAACP

Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP has been active in providing civil rights advocacy for over 62 years with a mission to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate hatred and discrimination. For more information, please visit www.naacpms.org or www.naacp.org

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