By BILL QUIGLEY, 11/13/06
Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave
to the poor. On the Gulf Coast, the reverse is happening.
Federal state and local governments are teaming up with corporations
and developers to systematically steal hurricane relief funds
from the poor to enrich themselves.
Billions of dollars were given
to help the communities damaged by Katrina. The people gave
this money to help the working, elderly and disabled people of
the Gulf Coast rebuild and restart their lives after Katrina.
The need is still great. Over
three hundred thousand people remain displaced from the City
of New Orleans alone. Hundreds of thousands of others on the
rest of the Gulf Coast are also not home. Over 80,000 families
in Louisiana are living in FEMA trailers. Texas says they have
250,000 displaced people and Georgia reports another 100,000.
Tragically, money that was
supposed to go to those in need is instead being diverted by
federal, state and local politicians and corporations who have
swooped down on these billions and are taking them for other
Example one. Congress allocated
$10.4 billion through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
program to rebuild Louisiana. By law, over 50% of these funds
are supposed to benefit low and moderate income people
As of November 1, 2006, only
eighteen people have actually received any of this money to fix
up their homes, out of over 77,000 homeowners who have applied
for assistance. Yes, only 18!
Louisiana cannot get the money
to those in need, but it has managed to start paying a corporate
management company, ICF International, $756 million over the
next three years. This is very big for ICF, whose total revenue
in 2005 was $177 million.
While tens of thousands of
homeowners wait for assistance, renters are not even on the list.
Not a single dollar of CDBG money is allocated directly to any
of the renters devastated by Katrina, despite the fact that over
50% of the people in New Orleans were renters.
Example two. Louisiana is
giving $200 million in CDBG federal hurricane relief funds to
bail out a private utility corporation, Entergy New Orleans.
This corporation pleads poverty despite being a subsidiary of
its parent Entergy Inc. which reported a net cash flow of $777
million dollars for the third quarter of 2006.
Worse, Louisiana is saying
this $200 million in CDBG funds counts as a contribution to the
low and moderate income people of New Orleans most of whom
have not even made it back to the city.
Example three. U.S. Housing
and Urban Development (HUD), which has taken over the local Housing
Authority of New Orleans (HANO), is seeking millions in hurricane
relief tax credits to demolish over 5000 apartments. Since Katrina,
HUD and HANO have barred thousands of families from returning
to their apartments. All the renters are African American, most
are mothers and grandmothers. Some are elderly and disabled.
Private apartments are out of the question as rent in the New
Orleans area is up nearly 80% over last year.
These apartments are safe and
could have already been repaired, but almost all the maintenance
workers were fired. A professor from MIT recently inspected
the apartments and declared they are structurally sound and are
in better shape than most of the rest of the housing in New Orleans.
Residents still living in Texas
and Georgia are pleading to return to their apartments and promise
to clean up the apartments themselves if only the government
will take the bars off the doors and windows.
Developers and the agencies
want to tear these apartments down and build other mixed income
housing. They say there is only a short window of opportunity
available to get hurricane tax credits to demolish and redevelop
so it does not make financial sense to repair the apartments.
After taking millions in hurricane
relief money will the developers still provide affordable housing
to 5000 families? Absolutely not. HUD flatly says that everyone
who lived in these apartments before Katrina will not have a
home after the developers are finished. Public housing residents
remember a 1600 apartment development was demolished before Katrina
and only 100 families have been allowed to live in the new place.
A hopeful sign is that Amnesty
International USA has joined in on the side of local residents
and affordable housing allies. AIUSA has mounted a campaign
calling on people across the country to “stand with Katrina
survivors and call for HUD to stop the destruction of housing
for low-income residents.”
Meanwhile, disaster profiteering
continues. The Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 was established
by Congress to rebuild the communities devastated by Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita. So far, this has been used to subsidize all
kinds of private projects including the building of a mall for
Target and JC Penny in Lafayette, expanding an auto dealership
in Baton Rouge, converting a plantation in Livingston into a
This corporate plundering follows
the path taken in the immediate days after Katrina when politically
connected corporations were given hundreds of millions of no-bid
contracts. Ashbritt of Florida was awarded a contract over $500
million to clean up debris in Mississippi despite not owning
a single dump truck. Ashbritt had paid a GOP lobbyist firm $40,000
right before the storm and another $50,000 directly to the GOP
the year before.
Ceres Environmental of Brooklyn
Park, MN was given a $500 million contract for debris removal
in LA by the Corps of Engineers. In the previous 4 years, the
company had received a total of $29 million in government contracts.
The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance listed the
company as a provider of “yard waste compost and horticultural
Circle B Enterprises was awarded
$287 million in contracts by FEMA to build trailers despite not
even being licensed to build homes in its own state of Georgia
and filing for bankruptcy in 2003. The company does not even
have a website.
Other corporations profiting
off the devastation include Bechtel, Blackwater, CH2M Hill, Fluor,
Halliburton subsidiary KBR and many others.
There has been no real oversight
of these misdeeds. The only criminal charges filed have been
against individuals who ripped off programs for a couple of hundred
or a few thousand dollars. Most recently, the Department of
Justice triumphantly announced to the press that they had issued
an indictment for abuse of Katrina funds of a man who illegally
received Katrina unemployment benefits while still working!
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions are being diverted without a
peep from the government.
The people of New Orleans and
the Gulf coast are fighting against the robbing of the poor and
the looting of hurricane relief funds, but the clock is ticking.
Before long, there will be
no money left. The generosity of tose who contributed to help
those harmed by Katrina will be snugly in the pockets of developers
and corporations. Affordable housing will remain scarce. The
working poor, the elderly and the disabled will remain displaced.
The next disaster will occur and this will happen again.
Support the people and community
organizations of the gulf coast in this fight. Raise righteous
and holy hell! Join with Amnesty International USA in the human
rights campaign to stop the demolition of affordable housing.
Ask your federal elected officials for an immediate investigation
into the looting of the Gulf Coast. We need your help, before
all the money is gone.
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor
at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Bill and Dan
Gregor assisted the defendants in this matter. You can reach
Bill at Quigley@loyno.edu