What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, October 19, 2007

Reps ask HUD to reject port request

By Ana Radelat
Clarion-Ledger Washington Bureau

October 19, 2007

WASHINGTON — Two Democratic lawmakers have asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development to deny Gov. Haley Barbour's request to divert $600 million in Hurricane Katrina housing money for homeowners and spend the money repairing, expanding and improving the Port of Gulfport.

In a letter to HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson released Wednesday night, Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Maxine Waters of California said the move "would constitute an unwarranted diversion of funds and a disservice to displaced Mississippians still in need of affordable housing."

But the lawmakers' request may be premature.

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the agency has not received Mississippi's proposal, which has been in the works for more than a year.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said the proposal has not officially been submitted to Washington.

The governor proposed giving the port $600 million because it is "crucial to the economy of our state and essential to the revitalization of the Gulf Coast region."

Barbour also said enough money is available in the $2.25 billion Community Development Block Grant program for hurricane victims to divert the money to the port.

About 27,000 homeowners in Mississippi have applied for grants, designed to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes or pay off their mortgages.

The proposal to divert housing money to the port provoked dozens of critical responses during a public comment period in September.

Residents, advocacy groups and pastors said they want to keep the money in the housing program.

Franks and Waters said housing for low- and moderate-income families in Mississippi "remains a critical issue for the state's recovery."

They said 13,800 small rental units were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but only 6,000 units would be repaired under state recovery plans.

The Democratic lawmakers also said more than 17,000 individuals and families in the state are still living in travel trailers and mobile homes.

Frank has authority over HUD programs as chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, but the agency may not be able to comply with his requests.

Under certain conditions, Community Development Block Grant money can indeed be spent for economic development.

Barbour already has received permission from HUD to give millions of dollars in grant money to Mississippi utility companies hurt by Katrina.

Congress last year approved a total of $5.5 billion in HUD Community Development Block Grants for the state. But Sullivan said Mississippi has spent only about $1.6 billion.

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