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Affordable housing needs to be part of disaster planning, says Oxfam America

By Oxfam

BOSTON, MA -- Unless government officials focus immediate attention on the critical housing needs of poor people along the Gulf Coast, the region cannot possibly prepare for the devastation future hurricanes will bring, warned Oxfam America today.

June 1 marks the start of the new hurricane season, but throughout Mississippi and Louisiana, public officials have made little effort to include the region’s poorest families and struggling workers in plans to recover from last year’s back-to-back disasters.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the region’s most vulnerable people hardest. They had the fewest resources on which to fall back, yet they are benefiting the least from the billions of federal dollars being spent on the recovery. Without a solid investment in affordable housing for the coast’s working poor, the potential destruction from a new round of storms could undermine the entire recovery process.

To date, nearly half the Mississippi Gulf Coast residents slammed by the storm are excluded from the state’s plan for using $3 billion in community development block grants. Many of them are renters and uninsured homeowners whose dwellings were outside the flood plain. They include children, elderly people, and disabled residents.

Of the 204,000 housing units in Louisiana destroyed or severely damaged by Katrina and Rita, 41 percent of them were occupied by renters. The state’s Road Home plan for $10.4 billion in federal assistance proposes spending 61 percent of that on homeowner-related programs, or $6.3 billion. Affordable housing and rental-related programs, on the other hand, are slated to get just 15 percent of the total, or $1.5 billion.

“To protect people from disaster, you need to protect them from deepening poverty, too,” said Oxfam President Raymond C. Offenheiser. “If the Gulf Coast is serious about preventing future disasters, it should start by making sure there is affordable, safe housing for all its residents. Poor people need to be at the center of every recovery effort.”

Oxfam America is a non-profit organization that works to end global poverty through saving lives, strengthening communities, and campaigning for change. Active on the Gulf Coast for the last 13 years, the agency made a decision after Katrina to launch its first major humanitarian response within the United States.

Since September, Oxfam has provided close to $1 million in grant support to local leaders and community groups, including those in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, and Plaquemines, Terrebonne, and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana. Oxfam has helped these local partners develop resources that will provide enduring improvements to the infrastructures of vulnerable and impoverished communities in both Mississippi and Louisiana.

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