Politics & Government

Gulf Coast senators seek hurricane aid for elderly, infirm

WASHINGTON -- Three Gulf Coast senators are pushing legislation to aid thousands of disabled or elderly citizens who remain uprooted nearly three years after they were left homeless by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, calls for $204 million in federal assistance to build or repair housing for seniors and disabled residents.

Titled the Gulf Coast Multifamily and Assisted Housing Recovery Act, the legislation seeks to overcome what Landrieu described as a "desperate shortage" of housing for elderly and disabled hurricane survivors.

At least 88,000 people 65 years old or over were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, according to the Congressional Research Service, including 15 percent with incomes below the poverty line. For every unit of senior housing in the Gulf Coast, 10 eligible low-income seniors remain on the waiting list, said the survey.

Cochran said the bill will help thousands of elderly and disabled Mississippians gain access "to the affordable housing they need to return to the Gulf Coast."

"The housing shortage remains one of the greatest challenges facing the Gulf Coast," said Wicker.

Landrieu cited a Vietnamese community in New Orleans East in which six retirement complexes have stopped operating in the aftermath of Katrina. Of the 2,400 seniors who have returned to the community since the hurricane, many remain in FEMA trailers or have been forced to move in with friends or family members.

The bill would finance the construction of 1,500 new units of housing for seniors and disabled citizens. It also requires the Department of Housing and Urban Development to prepare a plan to ensure adequate housing for the elderly and disabled in future disasters.