- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The president of the National Urban League yesterday urged Congress to work with Hurricane Katrina victims and rebuild the Gulf Coast in the same fashion that the country dealt with the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor, said the rebuilding efforts are inadequate and unfair to the displaced residents in terms of contracting, jobs and land reacquisition.

“We need to ensure homeowners the right of first refusal to reclaim property. These are their homes — washed out or not,” Mr. Morial said in a speech at the Georgetown University Law Center, his alma mater.

He outlined a plan for recovery and rebuilding — “the Katrina Bill of Rights” — that calls for Congress to provide extended unemployment assistance and would establish a victims compensation fund similar to the $7 billion fund established for September 11 victims.

The plan also would seek to secure the rights of displaced residents to vote in their hometown if they so choose, encourage financial institutions to stay loan and mortgage payments until people can return, and freeze foreclosure proceedings for at least a year.

“The final and perhaps most important right that every resident of the Gulf Coast be assured of is the right to work — for there is no better anti-poverty program than a good job,” Mr. Morial said.

Aside from the return and rebuilding, there is the issue of what to do with the displaced residents who are living in other cities.

Beverly Mitchell-Brooks, president of the Greater Dallas and North Central Texas Urban League, said the pressure on localities to provide housing and jobs has just begun.

“It is going to be a pinch to ensure that, No. 1, people can find apartments, and 2, that we can find them jobs,” Mrs. Mitchell-Brooks said.

She said Dallas has nearly 25,000 evacuees competing for housing and work against local residents on a waiting list.

The District recently experienced a similar problem when 295 evacuees from New Orleans were moved to the head of the line for housing placement ahead of local residents.

Other localities, such as Houston and San Antonio, face similar concerns about how to deal with the evacuees in need of assistance and simultaneously take care of their own residents.

Gulf Coast residents also are having to compete with illegal aliens who have come to storm-ravaged area looking for work during the rebuilding process.

Mr. Morial said he had no problem with people flocking to the Gulf region looking for work, as long as local residents are given first preference.

“The fact of the matter is, after you take care of all the local people and businesses, there will still be plenty of work for everyone else for a long time,” he said.

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