By News Report (Black Radio Network). Commentary, (Axis of Logic)
Black Radio Network (report). Axis of Logic (commentary)
Editor's Commentary: The people of New Orleans were first hit by Hurricane Katrina and then hit again by "Hurricane FEMA" in the U.S.
In November, 2005 I left my room at the Jack London hotel in Oakland, California and went to the lobby to check out for my return trip to Boston. I was in Seattle to purchase the prototype for a low cost FM transmitter for shipment to friends in Venezuela for the development of community radio stations. (Incidentally, lest anyone reading this think, as some have, that I was then or am now on the payroll of the Venezuelan government for that project or any other - I was not then and never have been.)
The hotel was about a 5 minute walk from Amtrak with the trains running very close by through the night. Imagine. When I reached the lobby there was a large group of African-Americans waiting to be checked out. Their presence there seemed odd to me and raised curiosity so I asked one of the men in front of me what was up. He explained that they were all victims of Hurricane Katrina and had been shipped off from New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston.
|'Astrodome' stadium filled with refugees from Louisiana in Houston, Texas, USA, on September 3, 2005.
At the Houston Astrodome they were herded like cattle in horrendous living conditions without adequate food, water, toilets, personal security or health care. Some died. The Texas Tribune reported, "At its peak after the storm, estimates of the evacuees in Houston grew as high as 250,000 people. A year later, reports indicated as many as 150,000 remained." From the Astrodome the people were shipped off to hotels where they lived far from home in rooms subsidized by FEMA.
On November 16, 2005 FEMA gave a 15 day warning to 150,000 who were living in 5,700 hotels in 51 states and U.S. territories that, "they have until Dec. 1 to find other housing before it stops paying for their rooms." Many were forced to settle down to look for jobs and housing far from the homes and community they lost in the hurricane.
From the Astrodome in Texas the people I met were transferred to this hotel in Oakland where about 40 Katrina families or 133 people (including 25 children) were staying. They were being told their time had run out and they were left to fend for themselves over 2,000 miles from their homes and communities in New Orleans. I asked the man what he and the others planned to do. He said that some found apartments there in Oakland and others were looking for jobs but many had no idea what to do and no means to go back to Lousiana. On December 1, 2005, Owner, Bill Harris threw a benefit party for them, Jack London Inn Hosts Holiday Healing Festival and Benefit for Katrina Survivors:
"Harris stresses that assistance is required to provide basic support for these people. For example, even if they find a job or receive housing, they may still be in need of work clothes or appliances. A representative from “Giving A Hand Up” will be at the event to discuss the organization and accept donations."
The Washington Post later reported that "Elena Cunha of Redwood City, donated supplies for more than 40 families that survived Hurricane Katrina," at the Jack London Inn.
The "Road Home" has indeed been a long and tragic one for people who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, many permanently displaced and most finding little to no mercy or permanent help from the hand of the U.S. government. It's too little, too late but we congratulate those who won this law suit against HUD and the State of Lousiana. Black Radio Network tells the story below.
- Les Blough, Editor
Blacks Win Katrina Law Suit
NEW ORLEANS -- Black homeowners and two civil rights organizations today announced a settlement in a post-Hurricane Katrina housing discrimination lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State of Louisiana regarding the "Road Home" program.
The suit alleged that the formula used to allocate grants to homeowners through the Road Home program – the single largest housing recovery program in U.S. history – had a discriminatory impact on thousands of African-American homeowners. Road Home program data show that African-Americans were more likely than whites to have their Road Home grants based upon the much lower pre-storm market value of their homes, rather than the estimated cost to repair damage.
For example, one African-American plaintiff whose rebuilding grant was based upon pre-storm value received a $1,400 grant from the State to rebuild her home; but she would have received a grant of $150,000 had her rebuilding grant been based on the estimated cost of damage to the home. These types of shortfalls played a key role in slowing down the recovery effort. Under the terms of the settlement, HUD and the State of Louisiana will direct additional funds to individuals in heavily-affected parishes whose grants were based upon pre-storm value.
The lawsuit was brought by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and five African-American homeowners in New Orleans, representing a potential class of over 20,000 people. All plaintiffs are represented by co-lead counsel, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, as well as Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr. Including today's settlement agreement, the plaintiffs have achieved significant relief for homeowners in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana:
In response to the plaintiffs' housing discrimination lawsuit, HUD and the State of Louisiana changed the Road Home program grant formula to provide full relief to more than 13,000 homeowners. All eligible low- and moderate-income homeowners received supplemental grant awards totaling $473 million based upon the estimated cost of damage to their homes, rather than the original grants based merely upon the much lower pre-storm market value of their homes.
By virtue of the settlement agreement, HUD and the State of Louisiana have agreed to amend the Road Home program to offer additional large supplemental rebuilding grants at an estimated value of over $60 million to several thousand homeowners whose initial Road Home Option 1 grant awards were based on the pre-storm market value of their homes and who have been unable to rebuild their homes.
In addition, the settlement agreement will provide thousands of homeowners additional time to rebuild their homes without the fear of penalty or foreclosure by the State of Louisiana. Under the agreement, Road Home Option 1 homeowners whose grant awards were based upon pre-storm market value can receive a one-year extension of the re-occupancy covenants attached to their Road Home grants.
"I am glad that by standing up against this flawed program we made a difference for so many other people," said Almarie Ford, one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Shanna Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance said,
"In addition to providing significant relief for individual homeowners, the Road Home lawsuit will serve as a warning to HUD and state officials nationwide to avoid the future use of pre-storm market value or similar market-driven criteria that have an obvious discriminatory impact on low-income and minority homeowners."
During the almost six years since the storm hit, countless homeowners struggled to rebuild. Many have not yet succeeded, particularly in Orleans Parish.
"Regrettably, the Road Home program became a road block for many." said James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.
"This settlement is a step in the right direction toward getting more hurricane-affected homeowners back into their homes. HUD and Louisiana must keep America's promise to build a better New Orleans. And they must do so in a manner that is fair and equitable for all people regardless of their race."
John Payton, Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), said, "People who had similar homes and suffered the same type of damage should not have been treated differently simply because of the neighborhoods in which they live. All New Orleanians, and all Louisianans, deserve a fair chance at rebuilding their homes and communities."
Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater said,
“Our goal in Louisiana has always been to provide the resources necessary to allow residents impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to return home, regardless of race or status. We recognize that many households face remaining challenges in their rebuilding efforts and we are hopeful that additional assistance through our Blight Reduction Grant Adjustment and other rebuilding programs will help bring even more Louisiana families home. I am glad that we will be able to close this chapter of the Road Home and to move forward.”
“Regrettably, the Road Home program became a road block for many.” said James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.
“This settlement is a step in the right direction toward getting more hurricane-affected homeowners back into their homes and making good on America’s promise to build a better New Orleans in a way that is fair and equitable for all people regardless of their race.”
The coalition of homeowners and organizations that brought the lawsuit has vowed to continue providing assistance to homeowners and working for a fair recovery for all.
Source: Black Radio Network