Advocacy group: Mississippi faces serious post-Katrina housing challenges

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Four years after Katrina, the state is falling behind in its ongoing efforts to provide permanent, affordable housing.

The Steps Coalition says HUD and the State of Mississippi share responsibility for flaws that have left thousands of families without permanent housing.

The 18 page report points to disparities and misplaced priorities in the area of Katrina housing assistance. It suggests there's plenty of blame to go around, but also offers recommendations to restore affordable housing and make the issue a priority.

Volunteers from Denver, Colorado are working to make Gregory Datchuck's Rodenburg Avenue home livable once again.

"I had roof damage like everybody else in the neighborhood. An inability to repair it led to the destruction of a couple of bedrooms," said the Biloxi home owner, "The black mold set in and my health deteriorated. I spent last winter in a teepee out back."

The team from Colorado is working through Back Bay Mission to rehab this home, four years after the storm.

"They're putting in the floor over here. After that, we're going to put in cabinets," said one of the Colorado volunteers, as she painted a living room wall.

This thankful home owner understands there are thousands of others, like him, still needing housing help.

"Because of raised rents, housing costs, code changes, insurance. Lots of factors," said Datchuck

"These past four years have been a real hard trial for those of us who've been in the non-profit world, trying to help those people who really had a need. And we still have a long way to go," said Steps Coalition board member James Crowell.

The Steps Coalition housing report says Mississippi trails neighboring Louisiana in its overall support for housing and rate of spending disaster funds, falls sharply below its own projections for building affordable, replacement housing and spends less for lower income as compared to housing for wealthier residents.

Reilly Morse is an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice and helped research and write the housing report.

"We were told a year ago all this array of housing programs is going to deliver the goods for people who will have to be coming out of trailers and coming out of cottages as these upcoming deadlines expire. And the sad truth is, that's not how it's turned out," he said.

Gregory Datchuck now considers himself among the lucky ones.  Fearful of "falling through the cracks," he's been blessed with faith based helping hands.

Among its recommendations, the Steps Coalition says HUD should require Mississippi to restore CDBG disaster funds that were diverted for purposes other than housing.

The report says HUD should also require the state to spend existing disaster funds more quickly, especially those for affordable housing programs.

It makes specific mention of the small rental assistance program, long term workforce housing and the Mississippi cottage permanency program.

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