Oxfam applauds Congress for passing Hurricane Housing Recovery Act

By mborum

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WASHINGTON — International relief and development organization Oxfam America today applauded the House of Representatives for overwhelmingly passing the Gulf Coast Hurricanes Housing Recovery Act of 2007 and called on the Senate to do the same. Seventy two Republicans joined a unanimous vote from House Democrats to pass the bill 302-125.

"We at Oxfam join housing advocates across the Gulf Coast region in commending the House for its bi-partisan vote,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “This milestone legislation takes steps to help ensure the most vulnerable survivors are not left behind in the region’s recovery. We urge the Senate to follow suit and prioritize swift passage of the Housing Recovery Act to help Gulf Coast residents who have already waited too long.”

Housing advocates throughout the Gulf Coast region celebrated a major victory yesterday, having played a key role in bringing the continuing housing crisis in the Gulf to federal lawmakers’ attention.

“Groups on the coast rallied in favor of this bill because we know what a difference it could make in steering the recovery in a more equitable direction. We are grateful to the congressional representatives who heard our voices and voted to support this”, said Natalie Presley of Mississippi’s Back Bay Mission. “We call on the Senate to follow the example of the House and pass this legislation swiftly.”

In early March, Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee Chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D. - CA) and other members visited Gulfport, MS and New Orleans, LA to learn more about the rebuilding challenges faced by Coast residents. The Committee heard testimony from a host of community advocates, including members of the Mississippi Steps Coalition (an alliance of organizations serving hurricane survivors), as well as from elected officials such as Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Upon their return to Washington, Waters and the House Financial Services Committee moved rapidly to craft a bill responsive to the needs identified by Gulf Coast residents. The new legislation includes measures that will protect rights of public housing residents—including the right to return—and restore some rental housing for disabled, homeless, and the elderly. Importantly, it also increases oversight over hurricane recovery spending in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, requiring regular progress reports from the states and initiating a GAO study.

Phone calls and letters to elected officials poured in from throughout the Gulf Coast to express support for the bill and a few strategic amendments. A last minute push by members of the Steps Coalition helped solidify support for an important amendment offered by Texas Congressman Al Green to extend FEMA trailers and disaster vouchers through the end of 2007. Residents who are eligible for Section 8 assistance, either in trailers or apartments, can transition to a Section 8 apartment after the deadline is up.