Rebuilding the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Frank Swaney [University of Pittsburgh School of Law 2L in Gulfport, Mississippi]: "Forgotten largely by national media coverage and private donations, the Mississippi Gulf Coast represents the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. The Mississippi Center for Justice therefore has a 2-fold job on its hands, dealing with the problems, and drawing attention to them. The main focus of the Center has been addressing the Coast's affordable housing crisis. This was a major issue in an area that has experienced a boom in casino-related development since the late 1980's. Couple that with the fact that Hurricane Katrina destroyed 50% of the affordable housing on the Coast and the problem has reached epidemic proportions. The Center is trying to draw attention to the problem so that low income and other affordable housing is rebuilt as part of the plan to rebuild the Gulf Coast "Bigger and Better."

This week I have been working with attorneys in Justice Court here on the coast both observing proceedings and preparing to defend low income individuals who are faced with eviction. I have also been surveying the damages and repairs that have been made to low income and other unsubsidized apartment buildings and communities. Many of the communities show no signs of life, and worse, no signs of repair. In many places debris has been removed, but nothing else has been accomplished. The problem here is even greater than I had imagined. As someone who had been to the Gulf Coast pre-storm, I found the level of devastation far beyond what even the most sensational news reports have shown the country. The entire community of Waveland, Mississippi is almost completely wiped off the map. Many homeowners have started to rebuild, but for every home on the coast being repaired, there is another that has either been bulldozed, or appears that a bulldozer will be the only possible outcome for it. There are entire lots filled with FEMA trailers and campers.

There is a very surreal feel to the entire area. At times here on the Coast, it feels as if I am an extra in some sort of post-apocalyptic movie, only the scenes are real. It doesn't feel like this is really the United States of America, it feels like some third world country. The stories of people who still don't have FEMA 'trailers' 6 months after the storm because of bureaucratic screw-ups are commonplace. It is important for America to realize that we not only failed the response to the storm in the short term, but it also appears that we are failing it in the intermediate and long term timeframes. There is an ongoing fight to make sure that "bigger and better" doesn't become synonymous for "without poor folks." To top it all off, what national attention still remains is focused on New Orleans, a microcosm of this is the fact that of 16 students from Pitt, only one of us came to the Gulf Coast. For those in the legal community who still feel that there is work to be done and help to be given, I only ask you not to forget Mississippi, as almost everyone else has."

 

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