National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and
Mississippi Affiliate Commemorate Tenth Anniversary Of Katrina
JACKSON, Miss. and WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the nation observes the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) and the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) continue their ongoing work— work that started immediately after the hurricane in September 2005 and continues to this day. The groups remain dedicated to ensuring that low-income households get federal disaster funds for damage to their housing, that job benefits promised from the expansion of the Port of Gulfport are obtained, and that negative environmental impacts from this major economic development project not unfairly fall on them.
This work has resulted in repairs, reconstruction and other direct housing assistance for more than 5,100 low- and moderate-income homeowners as part of the November 2010 settlement with federal and state officials of a case brought by MCJ and the Lawyers’ Committee on behalf of low-income households. Since the settlement, the total value of the program from federal disaster relief funds for Mississippi has grown from $132 million to $172 million. Another $20-25 million is expected to be added to assist in the repair and reconstruction of about 400 more households. The repairs cover at least 15 counties in south and southeast Mississippi.
“This outcome fully vindicates the forecasts by social justice advocates that there were more than 5,000 Mississippi households with unmet housing needs as we approached the fifth anniversary of Katrina,” said MCJ President Reilly Morse. “MCJ thanks the state’s Neighborhood Home Program and the contractors working under the program for this progress.”
In addition, MCJ and the Lawyers’ Committee continue to represent the Steps Coalition, a local grassroots organization working on behalf of low- and moderate-income persons. Through this representation, oversight and accountability on construction and permanent job creation at the State Port at Gulfport has been provided.
This critical oversight has led to greater accuracy about retained jobs at the port and to a shift in overall direction from a Port of the Future to a right-sized port that is more likely to fulfill its ambitions. The oversight also has exposed serious reporting and compliance problems that the Department of Housing and Urban Development now is requiring the Port and MDA to correct. MCJ and the Lawyers’ Committee also continue to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to observe environmental justice requirements. One of our clients, Rose Johnson of the North Gulfport Community Land Trust, was recognized by the national Sierra Club last year as the first Robert Bullard Environmental Justice award recipient.
Joseph D. Rich, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing and Community Development Project, stated “Because of the devastating and disproportionate impact of Hurricane Katrina on low-income and minority communities in both Louisiana and Mississippi, the Lawyers’ Committee created the Disaster Survivors Legal Assistance Initiative in 2005 two weeks after the disaster, and within a month, partnered with MCJ. Our organizations quickly forged a strong partnership with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) to address the devastating impact of the storm on New Orleans.”
“Through this Initiative, the Lawyers’ Committee emerged as one of the leading national civil rights organization providing legal assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” said Lawyers’ Committee Director of Legal Mobilization and Pro Bono Nancy Anderson. “Law firms contributed 34,856 pro bono hours valued at $16,121,000 between 2005 and 2009 which supported a wide array of housing and community economic development initiatives, and fair housing advocacy and litigation in both Mississippi and Louisiana. Our network of pro bono law firms continues to provide much needed assistance in the Gulf Coast region.”
The immediate focus of the Lawyers’ Committee’s work in Louisiana and Mississippi was support for displaced homeowners and renters in obtaining assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Within two months of the storm, the Lawyers’ Committee brought the first challenge to the failed response of FEMA in the landmark McWaters v. FEMA case, forcing FEMA to improve and continue providing housing assistance to tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims. In addition to its work in Mississippi with MCJ, the Lawyers’ Committee has worked closely with GNOFHAC and many other clients in the New Orleans area. This work included initiation of the St. Bernard Parish fair housing case in 2006, in depth fair housing work in New Orleans focused on the duty to affirmatively further fair housing, and a variety of community development projects in the Greater New Orleans area.
“The Lawyers’ Committee, MCJ, and our Louisiana partners and clients remain committed to ensuring racial justice as recovery efforts continue,” said Diane Glauber, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing and Community Development Project. “As detailed in the Lawyers’ Committee’s Five-Year Katrina report, Five Years of Commitment: Providing Legal Assistance in the Gulf Post Katrina, in addition to addressing issues of adequate housing, ongoing efforts include collaborative title clearing for homeowners and nonprofits, organizational capacity and nonprofit restructuring, affordable housing development, community land trusts, and port expansion. Also, we continue to represent community development organizations, advance zoning and ordinances that promote integrative fair housing, and advocate before the state legislature and around educational equity.
Click here for more about the organizations’ Deep and Continuing Commitment to Disaster Assistance for Low-Income and Minority Households on the Gulf Coast.
For more information about the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org. For more information about the Mississippi Center for Justice, visit, mscenterforjustice.org.