Financial Services Committee Democrats, led by Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA), participated in a Subcommittee field hearing, requested by Democrats, held today at the Port of New Orleans to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and review Federal efforts to support the City’s recovery.
Several officials participated in the day’s events, including Housing and Insurance Subcommittee Chairman Blaine Luetkemeyer (D-MO), Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Al Green (D-TX) as well as Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
During the hearing, Ranking Member Waters focused on the City’s work to re-house residents and rebuild public housing, and provide for economic development, including the need for sustainable jobs. She cited the need for one-for-one replacement to help provide more affordable housing options as rents continue to rise for the City’s most vulnerable populations.
Committee Democrats also examined the results of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Road Home program. Created with the intent to repair and rebuild quality housing in neighborhoods that are safe for both homeowners and renters, Road Home has seen much success, but has not been without shortcomings, including discrimination inherent in the distribution of funds.
Earlier in the day, the group participated in a walking tour of the Columbia Parc, formerly known as St. Bernard public housing site, and a driving tour of the Upper Ninth Ward and The Estates, to see the results of key investments made during the recovery. The group met with tenants and learned about their experiences rebuilding their lives after the storm.
Waters’ hearing statement is below.
“Thank you Chairman Luetkemeyer, and Ranking Member Cleaver, and thanks to the witnesses here today.
This August, I joined the people of New Orleans to mark the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Ten years ago I saw the devastation of Hurricane Katrina firsthand. As then-Chairwoman of the Housing Subcommittee, along with Members of the subcommittee like Mr. Cleaver and Mr. Green, we visited public housing units that were damaged by the storm and witnessed the difficult conditions victims of the storm faced. In the following years, we continued to work with public housing tenants to ensure they had the resources they needed to survive.
We worked together with housing advocates to shine a bright light on problems with Federal recovery efforts to hold officials accountable for improving conditions in the city and getting its residents back to life as it was before the storm. We held 16 hearings, six of which were held in the Gulf.
We understood that stabilizing the housing infrastructure was a critical part of ensuring that New Orleans reached full recovery. So in order to ensure that we were meeting the immediate and long-term housing needs of vulnerable populations, I introduced legislation, H.R. 1227, entitled the Gulf Coast Hurricane Recovery Act of 2007 to help re-establish housing options for Gulf Coast families. Although this bill was never signed into law in its entirety, I’m proud to say that several pieces of the bill were successfully enacted, including provisions to authorize 3,000 vouchers to house the homeless as well as disaster vouchers for displaced families to help smooth the transition into permanent housing after the storm.
Our work in the aftermath of Katrina also included identifying and rehousing victims of the storm as well as identifying and seeking to end housing discrimination, such as the anti-rental housing ordinance in St. Bernard Parish, and the discriminatory allocation of grant dollars through the Road Home program, which I am sure we will discuss today.
Additionally, I stood with several local officials and advocates to call for the one-for-one replacement of every unit demolished in the City’s public housing developments.
I’m proud to see that after ten years, the City has truly turned a corner – and New Orleanians have shown the world what resilience and true grit looks like. Notably, population levels continue to rise, chronic homelessness has fallen by nearly 90 percent, and the City has effectively ended veterans homelessness.
Nevertheless, our work is not done. First, we must work to expand affordable housing options for low-income New Orleanians. HUD-assisted housing in New Orleans now exceeds pre-storm levels, yet the public housing stock stands at just 26 percent of its pre-Katrina inventory.
Second, I’m also concerned about recent studies about the impact of Katrina on New Orleans’ black middle class. As we confront the wealth gap nationally, we must also confront the policies that have led to the erosion of New Orleans’ once vibrant black middle class.
Third, far too many residents are paying more than they should to rent a home. Prior to the storm, the majority of households in New Orleans spent less than 30 percent of their income on rent. Recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the trend is moving in the wrong direction, with 58 percent of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income to pay the rent today.
I hope to explore each of these issues in-depth today, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about their work to improve housing opportunity here in New Orleans.
Again I thank the Chairman and Ranking Member for holding this important hearing and I yield back.”