HUD secretary tries to prevent Katrina-like racial inequalities in rebuilding


“The Road Home program developed by the state (post-Katrina) was inherently discriminatory and inherently unfair because it limited reimbursement.”

NEW ORLEANS – US Secretary of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Marcia Fudge promised to address racial inequalities in state recovery programs on Friday as she toured HUD-supported senior homes hit by Hurricane Ida.

“The first mandate the president gave was justice,” she said when asked by WWL-TV about historical racial differences in storm recovery. “I’m here to make sure justice is part of the equation. If we don’t, I think we have failed the job I was sent here to do. “

Civil rights organizations hailed this message as they urged avoiding the kinds of inequalities that emerged during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.

“Let’s not obscure memories here,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor. “The Road Home program developed by the state (post-Katrina) was inherently discriminatory and inherently unfair because it limited reimbursement.”

Morial wrote letters to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, mayor in the Ida area, and to the governors of Louisiana, New York, and New Jersey urging them to develop recovery programs that benefit all communities equally.

He said these state and local officials can push for changes in the way FEMA responds to disasters, how quickly Congress allocates money to the HUD for housing restoration and the use of black-owned businesses in government contracts.

“We are not in the trap of repeating the sins of Katrina’s ten-plus year recovery,” he wrote.

He said he was primarily motivated by the flaws of the Louisiana Road Home program, which the late Katrina Governor Kathleen Blanco launched in 2006 to pay out $ 10 billion in HUD grants to homeowners.

A federal judge later said the Road Home grant formula was racially discriminatory as homeowners paid for rebuilding based on the value of their property before the storm, rather than the actual cost of rebuilding it. This led to a situation where a house in a historically black neighborhood with typically lower housing values ​​received fewer grants than a house of the same size and quality in a historically white neighborhood.

“Whoever came up with this formula was dull because it doesn’t make sense, because you want people to be able to fix their house,” said Morial.

The state has settled a lawsuit on behalf of black homeowners through the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. It agreed to set aside funds for the higher reconstruction costs, but only for the few unpaid grants.

“Focus on this issue in the early stages and make a public and clear commitment that this will not happen again and that the Katrina mistakes – and they were numerous – will not be repeated with Hurricane Ida,” said Morial.

At the same time, Shondrell Perrilloux, president of the St. John the Baptist Parish NAACP, says federal officials are already unfairly treating some of the hardest hit communities. She fears that after Katrina abused federal aid, she may ponder the sins of some residents and prevent FEMA from delivering supporters and other resources to the Ida devastated areas.

“You have a bad taste in your mouth about the abuse that took place with Katrina,” Perrilloux said. “So they were very, very cautious about their resources. But what I want to tell FEMA is to remind them that this is not Katrina. This is Hurricane Ida. … And right now we have people who are suffering with children who have nowhere to go. “

Morial also criticized FEMA, calling on elected officials to push for changes in the way the agency responds to disasters. He said FEMA should use insurance companies’ digital imagery to assess the damage, rather than relying on gathering information from claimants. He said estimates should no longer be used to assess damage due to the negative impact of decades of redlining on home values ​​in black communities – the banking industry’s systematic refusal to provide credit in black neighborhoods, especially prior to the Fair Housing Act.

“I think FEMA needs to get a lot more active,” said Morial. “And you could say, ‘Well, is that the role of FEMA?’ I would say it has to be FEMA’s role. “

Perrilloux said the federal government needs to coordinate with local officials to get a fairer impact. Even the national NAACP is struggling to provide the best help from a distance, she said. A $ 200 gift certificate was planned for Friday morning. Cars were parked at Clay’s Café in Laplace hours early only to find out that the event had been postponed.

Perrilloux said the local office must step in instead to provide baby care products. She said the planned event was well meant but not the best use of resources.

“With the $ 200 gift card, it wouldn’t have been as good as providing resources for cleaning supplies, baby items, and other resources that would help them with their daily lives,” she said.

Fudge said the government can do things to take into account the disproportionate impact on blacks and poor communities.

“We need to look at how we can make these communities more resilient, how we can make these communities more resilient to storms, wind and rain,” she said. “So that has to be part of the discussion. Otherwise we will just keep throwing money into a black hole. “

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