Oxfam Deeply Concerned About Proposed Sale of Public Housing on Gulf Coast

By Oxfam

Gulfport, Mississippi, Aug. 16, 2006 — As hundreds of poor families on the Gulf Coast face the prospect of losing their homes, Oxfam America today called on the US government to expand its investments in the repair and restoration of federally subsidized housing.

The Mississippi Regional Housing Authority VIII claims that a lack of funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for hurricane repairs is forcing it to remove at least three public housing projects from its roster in Gulfport and Pascagoula. The move could result in the loss of more than 400 public housing units for the lowest income families in the area. The housing authority plans to sell or transfer the buildings for redevelopment, which will likely result in the displacement of most of these families.

“Didn’t hurricanes Katrina and Rita rob enough poor people of their homes without the federal government taking away hundreds more?” asked Oxfam America’s Minor Sinclair, director of the agency’s US regional office. “HUD should be reinvesting in the Gulf Coast—not divesting from it.”

The regional housing authority has told many residents now housed in the three complexes that they may be eligible for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers which can be used on the open market if landlords participate in this federal program. But Oxfam America and local groups are gravely concerned these residents will be left with nowhere to go.

The rental market has grown increasingly tight since the storms hit nearly a year ago. In Mississippi’s three coastal counties, where 80 percent of the rental units were damaged and rents have climbed between 25 and 30 percent, affordable housing is nearly impossible to find. Additionally, time is running out for countless people still camped in FEMA trailers. That temporary housing assistance is offered for just 18 months, and many of those storm survivors soon may be hitting the rental market, pushing the demand and prices even higher. Local leaders are rallying to protect the homes and futures of their communities.

“The conversions make room for renters at market rates by squeezing out some poor tenants and resettling them. Cities may try to ‘purge the poor’ as these conversions spread,” said Reilly Morse of the Mississippi Center for Justice and a representative of Steps, an alliance of coastal Mississippi advocacy and volunteer groups that includes Oxfam America. “The emergency Katrina appropriation requires HUD to preserve pubic housing, but we foresee a net loss.”

Congress has approved billions of dollars in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to rebuild the coast, yet little has been designated for bringing back affordable rental housing—a critical resource for tens of thousands of households. Louisiana’s recovery plan calls for making 25,000 new or restored rental units available, but only 4,000 of them will be for extremely low-income families. This means only 3.75 percent of the $10.5 billion designated for rebuilding housing will go toward rental housing for the state’s very poorest residents. That’s an improvement, however, on the situation in Mississippi where the state currently has no plan to rebuild affordable private rental property.

“The need for rental housing is surging,” said Sinclair. “A Gulf Coast recovery that doesn’t include a sound plan—and a significant investment—for affordable rentals isn’t the recovery our government promised the region all those long months ago.”

Equitable reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, including access to decent housing, Sis the theme of a town-hall style meeting Oxfam America and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will hold on August 26 in Gulfport. The session will take a candid and comprehensive look at where the region is one year after Katrina struck and explore why communities are being left behind in the reconstruction effort.

Oxfam is working in active partnership with the NAACP and other human rights groups in the Gulf Coast region to ensure fairness and equity for all the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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