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Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008--Continued--

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008--Continued--


Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Washington for her leadership in managing this bill. We have had many important amendments discussed, and, of course, the Transportation and HUD appropriations bill is one of the most important of all of our appropriations bills. It covers all of our transportation infrastructure, including mass-transit and housing initiatives and others. I could not let this opportunity go by without offering an amendment that is one important piece of an overall puzzle for recovery in my State. It is my sincere hope that we can pass this amendment today, but if not, I am willing to work with the distinguished chair and ranking member to incorporate this provision in the appropriate legislative vehicle.

We are still struggling, despite the wonderful amounts of money from volunteers particularly and time from volunteers and appropriations that have come from Congress to help rebuild homes, we are still struggling from a catastrophic flood in south Louisiana, primarily in southeast Louisiana in the city of New Orleans, that region, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, Orleans Parish, parts of Jefferson, and others. There was also tremendous flooding in the southwest part of the State caused by Hurricane Rita, which came 4 weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

While the country is used to dealing with hurricanes and we have all had large ones and small ones and ferocious ones and minor ones to deal with, we have never, at least in the last 100 years or so, dealt with the devastation following the levee breaks and flooding and pumping systems that collapsed that should have worked. I tell people, if they can just imagine what the Netherlands would look like if the little guy with his finger in the dike--if it didn't work one day and the dike broke and the Netherlands basically went underwater. It is a country, and it is much smaller than the United States. In fact, it would fit inside of Louisiana. But, nonetheless, it is a very powerful economic engine in Europe. To have that dike and levee system fail and the catastrophe that would result in large measure is kind of what happened in New Orleans and the region.

You can imagine the difficulty of rebuilding 200,000-plus residences, some individual, single-family, owner-occupied homes, some homes that were rented, nonsubsidized, and then the rental subsidized sections of the city, public housing, affordable housing, workforce development housing--there are many words to describe these types of housing.

I come to say that rebuilding this housing stock is quite a challenge for our delegation. Congress can provide vast amounts of tax credits, grants, loans, and waivers but these benefits will not spur recovery if we cannot get people back into their homes. That is where recovery must start and end. For example, in Louisiana alone we had over 20,000 businesses destroyed. Business cannot open their doors if their workers have nowhere to live. Louisiana also had 875 schools destroyed. Again, teachers cannot come back to school and teach our children if they do not have a roof over their heads. So a fundamental piece of recovery in the gulf coast is to allow disaster victims to return home and rebuild.

The amendment I offer today for consideration--I thank Senator Murray for being such an outstanding leader on previous appropriations bills to try to push this issue for additional funding and help--is specifically to complement or parallel our efforts for helping homeowners get back. There is a bill, S. 1668, the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act, which is coming through the Banking Committee which is going to help our public housing residents and workforce development housing. This is because we lost thousands of units of public subsidized housing. I am pleased to work alongside Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd to hopefully secure a hearing on this important bill in the coming weeks and to work with my colleagues to usher it out of committee as soon as possible.

In regards to this bill, I should note that the recovery of public housing is one area that has not received much national press attention, even though prior to Hurricane Katrina, the Housing Authority of New Orleans--HANO operated over 7,000 public housing units, with about 5,100 units occupied. These residents, just like renters and homeowners, have a right to return home. We must provide them with the means and opportunity to do so. S. 1668, which I have mentioned would provide the means and opportunity necessary to make this happen.

I will not go into great detail on this legislation today but given its importance to my state, and the entire gulf coast, let me summarize the main provisions in this bill. First, this bill sets out a process to allow New Orleans area public housing residents to return home. Next, it strikes a good balance between the redevelopment priorities of HANO, developers, and public housing residents to responsibly rebuild better affordable housing units in New Orleans. Lastly, this bill creates home ownership opportunities, spurs community development, and gives a hand up to community nonprofits.

As evidence of the merits of this bill and the balanced approach we have established, I will ask that a copy of an August 27, 2007, Washington Post editorial be printed in the Record. This editorial clearly outlines the need for this legislation, how it will allow responsible mixed-income development, and how if it is passed today, responsible developers could begin construction tomorrow if they meet requirements in our bill. They are not burdensome requirements, instead they ask developers to consult with residents, ensure that when they tear down public housing units that they are providing for sufficient replacement units of affordable housing. Given that our State has over 5,000 displaced public

housing residents, thousands of people who were on the waiting list pre-Katrina to get into public housing, and a further 12,000 homeless individuals, I do not feel this is unreasonable to require that affordable housing stock be replaced, not lost, during this housing crisis.

I note that according to a June 2007 report by PolicyLink, a national research institute, rents have increased as much as 40 to 200 percent since the storms, leaving few apartments affordable to families making less than the area median income. That is why the amendment I am discussing, and S. 1668 are so important. The amendment I offer today is included as an authorization in S. 1668 and I would urge my Democratic and Republican colleagues to support this bill as I would ask their consideration of this amendment today.

This amendment is an amendment which will help close the loophole for the elderly, the disabled, and the homeless. In particular, there are a group of people who are too frail or fragile to live on their own, yet they do not belong in a hospital. We have many people--I am sure in the State of the Presiding Officer, in Pennsylvania, and I was in Philadelphia last night, a magnificent city--I am sure you can think of many places in Philadelphia where there are homes or apartments for disabled elderly, for adults who are not older but they are disabled through an accident or injury. They don't belong in a hospital. They can't be left alone. But it is sort of group housing, many times run by Catholic Charities. Sometimes they are run by other nonprofit organizations. We need that kind of housing desperately to help us get back, to take care of the most fragile people in our city who are still today without shelter. It would help those most at-risk, and those who really need the help most in my state. You can imagine the challenge to take care of this group under normal circumstances. But here we are, dealing with a catastrophe, trying to provide housing for thousands of people now returning to the city in a fragile situation. It is our obligation as a city, as a State, and as a nation to help. So that is basically what my amendment does.

I note that the Senate has already passed this amendment. It already passed this body as part of H.R. 4939, the emergency supplemental which was enacted last summer. However, much to my chagrin, and to those working on this issue in my State, this important provision was taken out by the House in final negotiations on the supplemental. So the Senate has already in some measure passed this particular proposal. I am offering and talking about it today to ask the Senate to consider this 3,000 units of supportive housing for the elderly, the disabled, and the homeless--the most fragile of our population. This is not necessarily the working population. These people can't work. They are too old to work, they are too weak to work, or they are too sick. But it is, of course, our obligation to help provide them with permanent and safe places to live. We all have a percentage of the population. No matter where you live, in the Northwest or in the Northeast or in the South, a percentage of the population has been overlooked.

With this in mind, we have to fight to get our homeowners back in their houses who are workers and business owners and professionals and upwardly mobile middle-class individuals. We have to fight hard to get our renters back. Some renters are upwardly mobile and middle class, some very wealthy. They just choose not to own a home. There is another group of renters that are in subsidized rentals because they have to be because they are working at minimum-wage jobs. There is a whole other group of people who are neither homeowners, young and vibrant, in the middle class and younger, although they might have been at one time. They are not in regular rental units. They are the fragile population. We have virtually provided no additional funding for them. That is what my amendment attempts to do. People are living with relatives. People are making ends meet. This amendment would provide $70 million for 3,000 units of permanent supportive housing to assist these at-risk residents.

As I mentioned, I was able to put this in the Senate-passed version of the emergency supplemental but, unfortunately, it was taken out. Therefore, I am here to show my support for this proposal, to respectfully ask the chairman and ranking member who are handling this appropriations legislation to consider this important proposal again today. If it can't be adopted by this body today, I would like to ask them whether they would be supportive of including this in the next supplemental that comes before the Senate. I see the chairman of the committee on the floor. I would appreciate knowing if Senator Murray is supportive of this amendment.


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