NEW DIRECTION FOR ENERGY INDEPENDENCE, NATIONAL SECURITY, AND CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT AND THE RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY CONSERVATION TAX ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - February 29, 2008)
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DAMAGE FROM HURRICANES
Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I want to follow up on the remarks of my colleague from New Jersey who has been an extraordinary leader in so
many ways, particularly on the housing issue. I thank him and associate myself with many of his remarks.
I rise to speak about the housing situation and to try to bring some comparisons between the difficulties around the country and, in some places, downright despair because of the foreclosure situation and pending bankruptcies. I also want to remind my colleagues that there is still a tremendous need on the Gulf Coast relative to the housing crisis and ask my colleagues not to lose sight of the difficulties that we are still having in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.
I know it is 2008. The storms of Katrina and Rita and Wilma are long gone in some people's memories but not in ours. These storms in many ways were just like yesterday, not just the hurricanes but the levees that broke and caused unmitigated disaster and despair.
I thought it would be helpful to first examine communities with the highest foreclosure rates, and with the Senator from Michigan in the chair, the first area I want to speak about is in Michigan--Detroit, Livonia, and Dearborn, which I am sure she is familiar with--which happens to be the metropolitan area that has the highest percentage of foreclosures. This chart shows you the top 10 communities in the Nation and the numbers of homeowners facing bankruptcy or foreclosure. The number of homes is both striking and startling. If you think about foreclosure, the damage is not just done to the family losing their home or the individual but to the neighborhood as a whole. If it is so concentrated, as it seems to be in some particular counties, it has dramatic economic effects on the whole community. That is why Democrats--and I know some on the other side are sensitive to this--are trying to fashion a package that recognizes that while we don't want to bail out impro per behavior, we most certainly don't want to bail out illegal behavior, we absolutely need a housing bill that recognizes that foreclosure does not just involve a single family, but it impacts an entire community, particularly in Michigan where some of this is probably associated with the downturn in manufacturing jobs. People are not only losing their jobs but losing their homes.
While the causes of our loss were very different, it wasn't due to an economic downturn. It wasn't really due to subprime lending practices. Our problems were due to the levees collapsing when they should have held and the ensuing floods that wiped out hundreds of thousands of homes, which I will get to in a minute. But for purposes of my brief remarks this morning, these are the top 10 areas facing foreclosure problems in the United States, in Michigan, California, and Nevada.
You have heard people say this crisis is limited to places within about seven States. But for comparison, I would like to show the counties and parish es in the Gulf Coast that have the highest rates of housing loss due to the floods. This is an extraordinary comparison. If I could ask the staff to hold up the other chart next to this one so people may see.
We are talking about the mortgage crisis, 4.9 percent in Michigan and 4.9 percent in Stockton, CA. Next to it is the actual numbers. So 41,273 households in the Detroit area are in some part of the foreclosure process; down in Miami, FL, 2.7 percent. That doesn't sound like a big percentage, but it is 25,000 families. That is a lot of families.
But let me show you on the Gulf Coast what has happened to us over the last 2 years. In St. Bernard Parish--this is major and severe damage. This is the percentage of homes that were unlivable, 78.4 percent; in Cameron Parish, which is a small parish in the Southwest, 71.8 percent; in Hancock County, MS , 69.8 percent; in Plaquemines Parish, LA, 57.5 percent; Orleans Parish, 55.9 percent; Harrison County, MS, 34 percent; Jackson County, MS, 34 percent; St. Tammany Parish, 25 percent; Jefferson Parish, 19 percent; and Vermilion Parish, 13 percent. There are no other percentages like this anywhere in the country.
My point is that while I am glad address the foreclosure crisis for the country and am proud to help other regions--and I most certainly understand the disaster associated with foreclosures, particularly if they are not really of your making. You took out the right kind of loan, you put your money down, but you lost your job or your child got into an accident, and because you don't have health insurance, you have to file for bankruptcy, and people are taking your home. And that is the last thing people should be doing. We should be helping pay medical bills and getting people jobs and not taking their homes. I am not here to bail out reckless behavior. But I most certainly think Congress should ste p up and help middle-class families struggling to keep their homes. But for comparison's sake, I want people to get their eyes on what we are still going through on the Gulf Coast.
We have parishes where 78 percent of the homes are unlivable and people are struggling to keep these homes. What the Federal Government has done has been substantial, but it is not adequate and not enough. While we have sent Community Development Block Grant funding down to many of these families, some of them still haven't s een a penny. Some of them had to deduct their insurance from that. We still don't have tax relief for individuals who took a casualty loss deduction and are now being taxed on their Community Development Block Grants. So people, in addition to not receiving their full complement, not getting their full insurance money, are now being pushed to a higher tax bracket because this Congress has failed yet to give them tax relief that they desperately need.
So as we put this housing relief package together for the Nation, let's think about what can be done in Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, where, in some places, 50 percent of families or more have lost their homes. Some people are back. Some people are struggling. But you might have a neighborhood, let's say, in St. Bernard--I was there last week--where there is one home that is fixed and inhabited. Every other home on that block is vacant. Think about that. This person is happy to be back in their house. But when you ask them what was the value of th at house before the storm, it used to be $450,000. Today that is a very interesting question. What is the value of a three-bedroom brick home on a block where every other home is empty? That is how badly people want to live in their neighborhoods and communities. These are not communities necessarily below sea level. Some of these places I describe are above sea level.
If the Senate continues to consider the Foreclosure Prevention Act, I have some specific suggestions as to how we can make the bill more relevant for families struggling on the Gulf Coast. First, we need tax relief for Road Home grant recipients. We need it for the people who have lost their homes. We also need to craft the legislation so that families can use the bonds allocated in the bill to purchase or refinance a home that was destroyed in the 2005 hurricanes. Also, the Community Development Block grant funding formula in the legislation should account for communities that have lost significant numbers of homes in the 2005 hurricanes. Finally, the bill provides a unique opportunity for us to increase home ownership in hurricane-impacted areas.
I wish the Presiding Officer the best in helping one of her communities. But please don't forget us. I don't have Alabama numbers, but the hurricane did hit Alabama. We do have those numbers on another chart. But for those of us on the Gulf Coast, this is critical. And, yes, another hurricane season is starting this spring. Let's get some help to these people and fashion a bill that we can pass that will bring real relief to American homeowners everywhere.
I yield the floor.