International aid agency Oxfam America today called on President George Bush to accelerate delivery of the promise he made to the nation one year ago to confront with bold action generations of poverty that have deprived residents on the Gulf Coast of the full array of American opportunity. Renewed commitment by public officials at all levels of government, led by the Administration, is required to ensure the region can build back better.
“On the anniversary of the costliest storm in US history—Hurricane Katrina—our president and his administration owe it to the people of the Gulf Coast to match their words with action,” said Oxfam America’s Minor Sinclair, director of its US regional office. “Billions of dollars allocated for the recovery have yet to reach the region. And the way the housing reconstruction rules are written now, tens of thousands of poor homeowners and renters will never see a penny of that help.”
A severe shortage of affordable housing is now gripping the region because of the storm and poor governmental policies from federal to local levels. Rents in some locations have climbed 25 to 30 percent, squeezing the Gulf Coast’s poorest residents out of the market. The crisis could only worsen if the 18-month allowance on tens of thousands of FEMA trailers isn’t extended. If evicted, families sheltered in those trailers will face a scramble for housing that the region is entirely incapable of meeting.
“From the rural parishes of Louisiana to the poor urban neighborhoods of Biloxi, Mississippi, decent, affordable housing must be the foundation on which this recovery is built,” said Sinclair. “Without homes, neither families nor the businesses they support can return. Without people, without jobs, there will be no Gulf Coast recovery.”
The impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on rental housing was immense. In Mississippi, 80 percent of the rental units in the state’s three coastal counties were damaged. And in Louisiana, 40 percent of the homes that were destroyed or severely damaged were rental properties. A total of 84,000 rental units were damaged or destroyed in the state. Yet neither state has a recovery plan that allocates nearly enough assistance to replace these lost homes. In Louisiana, the Road Home plan only covers 12.5 percent of the need. In Mississippi, there is as yet no plan to bring back affordable private rental units.
“Ensuring that people have access to affordable housing that is decent and convenient to jobs and schools is the first step in helping them climb out of poverty,” said Sinclair. “This administration talked about its duty to address a legacy of inequality. Housing is the place it should start. And today is the day it should lay the cornerstone.”