For Immediate Release
Appeal Filed in Mississippi Civil Rights Suit Against HUD
BILOXI, Miss. / WASHINGTON, D.C. - On behalf of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and four individual plaintiffs, lawyers from Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, PC, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, today filed an appeal in a case involving $570 million of emergency relief funds that were intended to assist low- and moderate-income victims of Hurricane Katrina, but instead were diverted to an expansion of the Port of Gulfport, Miss. Plaintiffs contend that the diversion violates fair housing laws and the intent by Congress for how these funds would be used.
Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion to dismiss filed by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). In its decision, the court wrote that the plaintiff's objection to the diversion of funds to the port project rather than to post-Katrina housing may be "well founded as a policy matter." It stated, however, that the plaintiffs lacked legal "standing" to question HUD's decision in the matter.
"We believe that the Judge failed to recognize the legally proper personal stake these plaintiffs --individuals whose homes are still in shambles and organizations who stand up for those individuals -- have in the proper oversight of federal post-Katrina relief money appropriated by Congress," said Larry Schoen of Mintz Levin. "We believe when these individuals voices are allowed to be heard, an opportunity that was not afforded to them in the district court, that we will prevail."
The plaintiffs assert in their suit that HUD had a duty, according to both federal statutes and its own regulations, to ensure the proper distribution of Congress' emergency appropriation to provide relief from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Instead, HUD failed to review Mississippi's December, 2007 request to divert approximately $570 million of this emergency relief money (more than 10% of its total allotment) to the expansion of the Port of Gulfport, an economic development project that had been in the works for years before Hurricane Katrina.
"HUD's repeated failures to properly oversee the use of the federal monies that Congress appropriated for hurricane disaster relief, which continues today, four years after this devastation occurred, have caused substantial harm to plaintiffs," said Reilly Morse of the Mississippi Center for Justice. "The plaintiffs will continue to pursue all available avenues, and are giving serious consideration to filing an administrative complaint with HUD against Mississippi, to ensure that these funds are used for the purpose which Congress intended, and call upon HUD to fulfill its statutory duties in this regard."
"The Lawyers' Committee is highly disappointed in the district court's decision but remains fully committed to pursuing all means for addressing the continued lack of adequate affordable housing on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi," said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Our next steps will include not only an appeal of this decision and consideration of an administrative complaint against Mississippi, but also continued efforts to engage in discussions with both HUD and Mississippi to seek agreement on affordable housing programs to meet the present needs, as we believe that all parties have an interest in such a resolution."
Attorneys from Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, PC are working in conjunction with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to represent the plaintiffs pro bono.
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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law.