Miss. plaintiffs to fight HUD’s motion to dismiss

Published 3:32 am Sunday, May 10, 2009

Opponents of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s approval of Mississippi’s diversion of $570 million from a hurricane housing program to a port expansion say they will fight the government’s motion to dismiss their lawsuit.

The Mississippi Chapter of the NAACP, the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and residents have until May 26 to file a brief explaining why the case should go to trial.

“It’s a very complex legal issue and legally we think we meet the requirements to bring the lawsuit,” said Joseph Rich of the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Mississippi received $5.4 billion in federal Community Development and Block Grant funding to assist in the state’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Last year, then-HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson signed off on Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to steer some money earmarked to replenish coastal housing to an expansion of the State Port at Gulfport. The decision drew criticism from congressional leaders and housing advocates because lingering unmet housing needs had left thousands living in federally subsidized dwellings years after the storm.

The plaintiffs filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.

“We would like for the court to require HUD to reconsider that decision under the appropriate review standards. In the meantime, the money has not been released to Mississippi yet to expand the port,” Rich said Friday.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the government contends the plaintiffs haven’t established the right to sue on behalf of their members or clients.

“Nor can plaintiffs show that HUD’s alleged procedural violation caused the alleged lack of affordable housing,” the government said. “Finally, plaintiffs cannot show that an order setting aside HUD’s approval of Mississippi’s decision would remedy plaintiff’s alleged injuries.”

Of the four residents who filed the lawsuit, none have claimed to be qualified to receive funding from the state’s Katrina homeowner’s assistance program and didn’t establish any injury because of HUD’s approval of the diversion, the government said.

After plaintiffs respond to the motion to dismiss, the government will have until June 25 to file a reply.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck the coast in August 2005, rendered the Port of Gulfport unusable for months. The proposed expansion would increase the port from its current 210 acres to nearly 1,000 acres. The expansion is projected to create more than 6,000 new jobs at the facility that’s considered the busiest green-fruit port in the Gulf of Mexico.

Port Executive Director Don Allee said Friday the facility’s restoration is ongoing. Allee wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, referring questions to the Mississippi Development Authority, which oversees the Katrina funding. MDA spokesman Lee Youngblood didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

“I’m looking at cranes steering dirt. It’s not so much expansion, but we’re restoring. We’ve been restoring the port since the day after the storm,” Allee said.