Biloxi City Council Set to Remove FEMA Trailers, Victimizing Katrina Survivors and Undermining Obama

For Immediate Release

Biloxi City Council Set to Remove FEMA Trailers, Victimizing Katrina Survivors and Undermining Obama

Residents, Advocates Urge Elected Officials to Stand Up for Human Rights, Vote Down Proposed FEMA Trailer Removal Ordinance

BILOXI, Miss. - Despite President Barack Obama's
decision to allow residents living in FEMA Trailers to remain in their trailers
while the federal government partners with residents to find permanent
housing[1], the Biloxi City Council is preparing to take action to kick these
hurricane survivors out of their city. The Biloxi City Council will vote June
16th on an ordinance, backed by the City's community
development office[2], forcing FEMA trailers to be removed from residential
zones by August 9th. Housing and human rights advocates have denounced the
proposed ordinance as another step in the victimization and marginalization of residents with disabilities, low income, elderly, immigrant, and
minority survivors of Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita by their elected officials.

Chuck Rogers, a long-time Biloxi resident is
currently living in a trailer on Redding
Street as he works with Hope Community Development
Agency, a community-based nonprofit working to find permanent homes for Katrina
survivors, to redesign a new home for his lot. He is eager to move out of his
trailer but now fears the city council ordinance will set back his plans to rebuild
saying, "I'm just trying to do the best I can to build to the
future."

"I think it's important that
the city recognizes that everyone has not recovered completely from Katrina and
that a number of people are still working on their homes," said Ward 2
Councilman Bill Stallworth, an outspoken critic of the ordinance who also
serves as Executive Director of Hope Community Development Agency. "It
will be unconscionable for the city to throw its citizens onto the
streets."

"Biloxi will run afoul of the federal Fair Housing Act if
the trailer occupants it displaces include high numbers of racial minorities,
persons with disabilities, or single mothers with children," noted Reilly Morse, an attorney with the Mississippi Center
for Justice.

The proposed move
by the City Council comes in contrast to the Obama Administration's
recent announcement to stall a planned eviction of families in FEMA trailer,
instead deciding to sell a number of trailers for $5 or less to residents, and
provide $50 million in housing vouchers and federal housing case management
assistance to assist remaining qualified residents still in temporary housing
to find their best options for permanent affordable housing. The plan, which
came about after significant protest and outreach by advocates and
residents[3], was viewed as an important first step on Gulf Coast
recovery by the new Administration. Still questions remain about how the
Administration plans to address the region's remaining inter-related
post-Katrina-Rita social, economic and environmental crises, especially after
the U.S. Treasury Department's recent decision to exclude Gulf Coast
communities from key housing programs in the economic recovery package,
affecting the construction of 10,000 much needed affordable housing units[4].

Advocates
fear that such actions, if allowed to move forward, will not only be a major
set-back for residents rebuilding their homes and lives in Biloxi, but possibly
for residents in other cities looking to enact similar ordinances to force out vulnerable
residents still residing in FEMA Trailer but unable to find permanent
affordable housing.

A group of advocates, including local groups Action Communication
and Education Reform, Inc.,
Biloxi Branch NAACP,
Dando la Mano, Hope CDA, Mississippi ACLU, Mississippi Center for Justice,
Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, Mississippi Coast
Interfaith Disaster Task Force, Mississippi LIFE, MPOWER, STEPS Coalition, and
national allies including ACORN, Advancement Project, Advocates for
Environmental Human Rights, Alabama Arise; and Federation of Southern
Cooperatives, Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil
Rights Under Law , Louisiana Justice Institute, Oxfam America, NAACP Legal
Defense and Education Fund, Inc., National Coalition for Asian Pacific American
Community Development, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, National
Low Income Housing Coalition, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human
Rights, South Bay Communities Alliance and U.S. Human Rights Network, who
helped push the Obama Administration to stop the planned FEMA Trailer
evictions, are now urging the City of Biloxi, as well as state and federal
leaders, to end the victimizing the survivors of our nation's largest
disasters. Instead of removing residents from their land they are urging
elected officials to enact policies which protect the human rights of hurricane
survivors by looking to the United Nations' Guiding Principles on Internal
Displacement, a human rights policy that, for several years, has guided the
U.S. government in providing temporary and permanent homes for people in
foreign countries who become displaced by earthquakes, typhoons, and flooding
and allowing survivors of disaster to participate in their recovery. 

In order to
ensure the human rights of hurricane survivors they are also urging:

Ø     
U.S. Treasury Department to reverse its decision and allow Gulf Opportunity
Zone financing to qualify for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's
tax-credit exchange program, to help Gulf Coast state housing agencies exchange
difficult to utilize tax credits for grants to build much needed additional
affordable housing units. 

Ø     
Congress and the White House to enact the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269)
a recently introduced piece of federal legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Gene
Taylor (D-Biloxi, MS), Joseph Cao (R-New Orleans, LA), Rodney Alexander
(R-Quitman, LA) and Charlie Melancon (D-Houma, LA) to create 100,000 jobs
for survivors to rebuild their communities and restore the environment,
including vital natural flood protection to create a more sustainable and
equitable Gulf Coast[5].

Ø     
Overhaul the Stafford Act and other disaster response and planning legislation
to ensure human rights are protected in preparation for, during and after
future disasters and to incorporate the lessons learned during Hurricanes
Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

 

References:

1.     
FEMA Website, Finding Long-Term
Housing Solutions for Hurricane Victims,
June 3rd, 2009: http://www.fema.gov/media/fact_sheets/longterm_housing_hurr.shtm

2.     
WLOX, "Biloxi development director: It's time for
FEMA trailers to go", June 4th, 2009: http://www.wlox.com/Global/story.asp?S=10480791

3.     
Press Release, "FEMA
Trailer Experience comes to Washington",
June 1st, 2009: http://krvexpress.org/?p=179;  McClatchy Newspapers, "Gulf
Coast Advocates Protest at FEMA Headquarters", June 1st 2009: http://www.kansascity.com/444/story/1227999.html

4.     
American Prospect, "Why is
the U.S. Treasury Excluding the Gulf Coast from Stimulus Benefits", June
10th 2009: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=why_is_the_treasury_excluding_the_gulf_coast_from_stimulus_benefits

5.      New Orleans Times Picayune,
"Unlikely Allies back bill for Gulf
Coast jobs", June 1st,
2009: http://www.nola.com/news/?/base/news-1/1243833645183980.xml&coll=1
 

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