Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the New Homeowner Disaster Recovery Program Press Conference

Isaiah Fredericks Community Center, Gulfport, MS

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thank you, Governor Barbour, for that introduction, and thanks also to the Mississippi Center for Justice and Reilly Morse for your outstanding work on behalf of the vulnerable residents of this state.

Let me also thank Mrs. Irene Walker -- whose home we were supposed to be at today until Mother Nature intervened.

It was in Mrs. Walker's wood-frame house about a mile from here where Ernest and Doreen Chamberlain found shelter during the storm as their own home was ravaged by some five feet of floodwater.

Having visited the Gulf Coast seven times since becoming HUD Secretary, it's people like Mrs. Walker who reaffirm my belief that with the right partners, this region won't just recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- it will emerge stronger than ever before.

But in order to keep Mississippi communities on the road to recovery and revitalization, we need to ensure that everyone affected by the storms receives the help they need and deserve.

I'm back in Mississippi today with Governor Barbour because the Obama Administration and the Barbour Administration are working together to keep that commitment.

Of course, while we have worked hard to provide residents of the Gulf Coast with the tools they that they need to recover and to rebuild their lives and communities, we all know that particularly when it comes to Hurricane Katrina, government hasn't always gotten it right.

Indeed, in the months after she took the Chamberlains in, Irene Walker, herself, was forced to abandon her home and stay with her niece as raw sewage destroyed the interior and wind from the storm damaged the roof.

And while the Chamberlains thankfully received the help they needed to repair their home, Mrs. Walker didn't.

That's not right. And everyone standing at this podium today decided that it needed to change.

Working together with the Mississippi Center for Justice, which has done so much to fight for fairness on behalf of the low-income families of this state, and the state government itself -- we reached an agreement that would help extend state and federal resources to Mississippians who desperately needed our help.

And I want to thank HUD's Assistant Secretary for Community Preservation and Development, Mercedes Marquez, and my senior advisor for disaster recovery, Fred Tombar, for bringing the parties together to make this agreement possible.

So, I'm pleased to join Reilly Morse and Governor Barbour to announce HUD's approval of a $132 million Disaster Recovery Plan for Hurricane Katrina housing recovery in southern Mississippi.

Through this plan, eligible homes damaged by the hurricane will receive up to $75,000 for repair and rehabilitation.

These funds will also help qualified, low-income families move into two- and three-bedroom Mississippi Cottages or find affordable rental housing.

And to ensure that Mississippi families with unmet disaster needs can begin putting their lives back together again and have a safe, stable place they can call home, the state has pledged a massive outreach effort to identify any low-income homeowners that have suffered hurricane damage but are not currently being assisted by the state.

Developed by HUD and nonprofit partners like the Mississippi Center for Justice, this outreach plan will ensure that homeowners in the nine counties most heavily affected by the storm will have their Katrina-related housing needs identified.

And with Mississippi holding in reserve $40 million in federal funds that have already been provided, we will ensure that the housing needs of newly identified families are met.

The Disaster Recovery Plan we're here to announce today represents the latest example of the Obama Administration's commitment to help the Gulf Coast move from recovery to revitalization.

As difficult as this process has been--and as long as the road has been for too many families--I know we can succeed.

I know because I've seen for myself what we are capable of when we work together on behalf of families in need.

Let's not forget: there were 40,000 families on the verge of losing their temporary government housing assistance--losing their homes--when President Obama took office.

But by working with federal partners to extend federal assistance for another 6 more months, by working with nearly 350 public housing agencies around the country to provide comprehensive case management, and by providing more than 12,000 of the most vulnerable families with permanent Housing Choice Vouchers -- I'm proud to say that of those 40,000 families, we have helped more than 98 percent move into permanent housing.

That's not all we've been able to do. Through the $2.1 billion state Homeowners Assistance Program, we've assisted nearly 39,000 Mississippi families.

These accomplishments remind us that, even though we still have a long way to go, we can make a difference.

It reminds us that, as Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

And above all, it reminds us in the Obama Administration that no matter how tough the challenges are--or how high the barriers--that we will never forget the people of this state.

And with commitments from partners like Governor Barbour, Reilly Morse, and the government officials and housing advocates of this state, I know that we never will.

Thank you very much for being here today. The Governor and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.


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