New Oxfam America Report Probes Gross Inequalities in Gulf Coast Recovery

By Oxfam

BOSTON, Massachusetts, August 23, 2006—One year ago, the US government promised survivors of Hurricane Katrina that it would take bold steps to address the deep inequalities the storm revealed. Twelve long months later, government at all levels, from the Bush Administration down to local officials, has yet to make good on its pledge, according to international humanitarian organization Oxfam America.

Nowhere is that abdication more evident than in the critical shortage of affordable rental housing—often the only kind that poor people can afford—now gripping the Gulf Coast. Despite almost $17 billion that Congress has approved to rebuild homes and community infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi, neither state has allocated nearly enough of those funds to replace the affordable rental units lost in the storm. Further, as of early August, not one house in those two Gulf Coast states had been rebuilt with that money.

In a new report released today entitled “Forgotten Communities, Unmet Promises: An Unfolding Tragedy on the Gulf Coast,” Oxfam America catalogues the lack of political will, the bureaucratic bungling, and the poor policy decisions that have contributed to this housing crisis and left the region’s poor further behind than ever.

“Our government talked of its duty to rebuild the region, particularly for the most vulnerable people and those hit the hardest. Instead, poor communities have been pushed aside, pushed down, and pushed out,” said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam America’s grant-making program in the US. “The rental crisis, for which there are a range of available solutions, is just one example of the gross inequities now playing out in this recovery.”

The report explores the fate of three diverse places—East Biloxi, Mississippi, and rural communities in Louisiana’s Plaquemines and Vermilion parishes—and shows how neglect at all levels of government is robbing hard-working people of the brighter future the administration vowed it would provide.

“This is one of the largest reconstruction efforts in recent US history. All Americans expect the rebuilding to be fair and to help those who need help most,” continued Sinclair. “But so far, that’s not happening, and for some of the region’s poorest residents, things have only gotten worse during this recovery.”

Hundreds of Mississippi families in Gulfport and Pascagoula face the prospect of losing their homes because the regional housing authority plans to sell or transfer the buildings in which they live. Scores of other people, packed into government-issued trailers, have had to live with what they suspect are sickening levels of formaldehyde fumes while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has only recently decided to conduct tests.

Among the report’s recommendations for addressing the recovery’s inequities are:

  • To make eligibility requirements of homeowner assistance inclusive by dropping the penalties imposed on people who did not have insurance—often because they could not afford it.
  • To allot a proportional share of federal funds for the replacement of affordable rental housing.
  • To reform disaster housing assistance by passing the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 which would help people find permanent housing solutions more quickly while minimizing waste and inefficiency.

Oxfam America’s report also features six profiles of individuals struggling to make order from the chaos—both physical and psychological—that hurricanes Katrina and Rita left. Portraits shot by Time magazine photographer Steve Liss illustrate these stories and capture the hardships other Gulf Coast residents have endured.

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