Civil Rights Organizations on Hurricane Relief Efforts

People line up next to donation items after Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina donations. Photo by Barret Anspach, CC BY 2.0.

Throughout what we know will be a long recovery over the coming weeks, months, and years, Shelterforce hopes to share the stories of the people and organizations charged with serving Hurricane Harvey’s survivors and championing their interests. We encourage those in the community development field to submit your stories here, as well as share when you have information or resources that may be helpful to others. The needs of the populations you serve only grow during natural disasters, and they—and you—are in our thoughts.

– The staff at Shelterforce.

The following is a joint statement released this week by The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Texas, Arc of the United States, Fair Share Housing Center (NJ), Greater Houston Fair Housing Center, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Human Rights Campaign, Inclusive Communities Project (TX), Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mississippi Center for Justice, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Coalition for Asian American and Pacific Development (National CAPACD), National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients), National Disability Rights Network, National Fair Housing Alliance, National Housing Law Project, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, Texas Appleseed, Texas Low Income Housing Information Service  and UnidosUS:

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, our thoughts are with the people of Houston and other communities along the Gulf who bore the brunt of the storm and are now faced with the daunting job of clean up and recovery. We extend our deepest condolences to those who lost family or friends, and to those whose homes, possessions, and livelihoods were destroyed.

It is time now for the region – with the support of the nation – to tackle the enormous job of helping the communities hit rebuild and recover. We are civil rights organizations who have seen the difficulties of recovery from previous storms, including Katrina, Ike and Sandy. It is imperative that all residents be given equal access to the resources they need to put their lives back together and prepare for the future.

Congress is now poised to consider a funding request for the recovery and rebuilding, and we call on them to move swiftly to appropriate the funds necessary with emergency funding that is not offset by cuts to other important programs.

Many federal, state and local agencies will play a role in the rebuilding process, helping to tackle a wide range of urgent needs including those related to housing, transportation, and other infrastructure, the environment, education and small business, among others. As they undertake this effort, we call on these agencies to fulfill their responsibilities under the important laws that protect civil rights in our nation, including the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Stafford Act, among others.

These agencies should refer to the guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Justice at this time one year ago for direction in achieving this critical goal.  The rebuilding process must result in a smarter and fairer distribution of affordable housing, so that options available to low income people, particularly low income people of color, are not limited to high poverty, highly segregated, geographically vulnerable neighborhoods. In this regard, Houston must use this occasion to resolve the problems related to the location of its assisted housing that were identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in its recent Title VI finding.

The civil rights of those affected by the disaster must be enforced to ensure that everyone in the region who was affected by Hurricane Harvey is given an equitable opportunity to participate in the recovery, regardless of their race or national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, disability or citizenship status, their income level or whether they are homeowners, renters or homeless.

It is essential that those affected have meaningful access to emergency and recovery-related services regardless of their ability to speak English or their citizenship status. This is particularly important given the current climate of hostility toward immigrants, which creates fear and uncertainty among documented and undocumented immigrants alike, as well as people who are citizens. This requires that all agencies involved have the capacity to communicate in multiple languages, as well as with those who are blind, deaf and hard of hearing, and refrain from asking the citizenship status of any individual, family or child seeking assistance.

Our organizations stand ready to work with the government to help achieve a fair and equitable recovery from this devastating event.

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