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736 N. CONGRESS ST. (39202) P. O. BOX 1023 JACKSON, MS 39215-1023 601-352-2269 fax 601-352-4769 www.mscenterforjustice.org A Mississippi Non-Profit Corporation To: Greg McConnell; Jean O'Hare; Martha Koster; Donald David; Germaine Corprew; Don Verrilli, Steve Tomashefsky; Mitchell Dolin, Tom Williamson; Anne Proctor; Kitty Behan; Chris Nugent; David Lash; Kathi Pugh; Jack London From: Martha Bergmark, Mississippi Center for Justice, President Karen A. Lash, Mississippi Center for Justice, volunteer Subject: Mississippi Research Needs Date: October 26, 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of families and individuals. The hardest hit were those with scant resources to begin with—families living in or near poverty. We have all been struck by the stark and shameful images Hurricane Katrina revealed to the nation, and by the undeniable fact that among those labeled ―poor‖ were thousands of working parents living from paycheck to paycheck, with no financial assets, no insurance, and no bank accounts to help them rebuild. Mississippi now faces a rebuilding effort that must include both the physical reconstruction of the communities hit by the hurricane, and attention to the economic and social conditions that this tragedy has exposed. At the Mississippi Center for Justice, we believe there is a real opportunity to rebuild in a way that redresses the conditions of inequity and deep, concentrated poverty that predated Katrina. But we need your help. The Mississippi legislature has already begun its post-Katrina legislative agenda. We could benefit from research/policy papers on each of the issues described below by November 30. We hope to share research and proposed model language on a range of issues with the appropriate legislative committees and with our partners in Mississippi with whom we’re working on these issues. We are hoping for a comprehensive review of how other jurisdictions have dealt with these issues in the past and for any other creative ideas which might help us, and the legislature, think through possible solutions. Ideally, pro bono volunteers would draft memos that outline the issue, review current Mississippi law, describe how other states (especially neighboring and southern states) have effectively dealt with the issue, and propose language for new Mississippi laws. If someone at your firm would like to develop a paper on one or more of these issues, please contact Bonnie Allen (firstname.lastname@example.org), a legal volunteer who has been working with us, by Friday, November 4. She will put you in contact with an in-state lawyer with expertise and interest in the issue you have chosen to research. This lawyer will be available to consult with you during November as you develop your paper. BOARD OF DIRECTORS Fred L. Banks, Jr., Chair ∙ Robert B. McDuff, Vice Chair ∙ Suzanne G. Keys, Secretary Isaac K. Byrd, Jr., Treasurer ∙ Carol Burnett ∙ L.C. Dorsey ∙ J. Brad Pigott ∙ Carlton W. Reeves ∙ Warren Yoder ∙ Martha Bergmark, President LANDLORD/TENANT ISSUES Mississippians along the coast are experiencing myriad housing-related problems. Some of the landlord/tenant issues are due to unscrupulous landlords and include tenants returning to homes only to find the locks changed and people able to pay higher rents in their place. Loopholes concerning confiscated possessions allegedly to cover lost rent leave the evicted trying to at least retrieve their medications and children’s toys. Other tenant issues have arisen from fair-minded landlords needing information about how best to protect their property and their tenants. Mississippians advocating for fair tenant-protection laws could benefit from research about the following: OTHER HOUSING ISSUES: Of the estimated 200,000 single family dwellings in Katrina’s path, an estimated 103,000 are uninhabitable, with some 65,000 dwellings completely destroyed and 38,000 having suffered major damage. Low-income and minority neighborhoods have been especially hard hit. For example, east Biloxi – the oldest area of the city with the highest concentration of low and low- to-moderate income households – is completely devastated. The Jackson Clarion Ledger and the Biloxi Sun Herald carry regular reports about the destruction of residential housing and the emerging plans to provide temporary shelter and to rebuild the area for the long term. With so much of the housing market wiped out, low-income housing advocates need help identifying model re-build strategies. Currently, there are questions about where to locate the ―temporary‖ trailers. Permits are already being pulled on new development and for moving the formerly off-shore casinos on land at a time when public comment is virtually impossible. Price- gouging issues for the scarce available homes for purchase has caused houses to sell for up to three times the pre-hurricane market rate. There has been little discussion about ensuring that affordable housing units are replaced much less expanded. We predict that the volume of individual housing-related legal needs of low-income people on the Coast will be enormous and that the need for systemic advocacy on housing issues with jurisdictions at the municipal, county, state and federal levels will likewise be of critical importance. Affordable housing advocacy: How will available units be assigned? What are the legal strategies for ensuring it is done fairly and equitably, and does not create new segregated living situations? How will wait lists be determined? Preserving Section 8 housing: What legal tools are available for fighting attempts by Public Housing Authorities to demolish existing public housing? (Start with HUD Housing Programs: Tenants’ Rights (3rd ed.) at Section 15.2, et seq.) Creative ideas for subsidizing low-income housing: Any ideas from other states appropriate for consideration in Mississippi? Manufactured home loan guarantee programs? Subsidies to developers for low-rent set-asides? UTILITIES Reasonable deposit for municipal water service: There are several utilities regulation and hook-up issues. The Mississippi PSC doesn’t have authority to set rates. Some communities require at least 3 months’ deposit to have water turned back on. Some utilities will require people to pay what’s past due before reconnecting. Mississippi needs some kind of reasonable and rational approach to these ―turn-on‖ issues. (The National Consumer Law Center is an excellent resource to start.) CONSUMER ISSUES Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices statutes: One of the most important legal consumer protections in any state is the UDAP statute, usually providing for attorney fees, and treble, punitive or minimum damages for a wide array of deceptive or abusive practices – auto repair and sales, insurance, landlord tenant, credit, leases, mobile homes, utilities, debt collection, foreclosures, business opportunities, and much more. Mississippi needs a new UDAP statute that includes a broad catch-all provision that prohibits unfair and deceptive practices, and that allows for private enforcement. To further aggravate the situation in Mississippi, current law allows for imposition of attorneys’ fees on a losing plaintiff, creating a significant disincentive to file suit. North Carolina provides one good example (starting at 75-1.1 of the North Carolina code). Any new proposed law should have corollary language about insurance, fair debt collection, etc., that describes what is ―unfair‖ and ―deceptive‖ in more detail. Protection from garnishment: Mississippi law doesn’t address whether or not FEMA and other emergency relief monies are immune from garnishment, as some government benefits such as Veterans and Unemployment benefits already are. Is there precedent for such protection for emergency relief or does this require a legislative fix? Similarly, is a blanket protection from garnishment for bank accounts (first $2500) feasible? MCA 85- 3-1 does not even exempt Social Security benefits, resulting in frequent garnishment of same despite the federal bar under 42 USC 407. Price-gouging: Stories of unconscionable prices being charged to desperate homeowners who must replace or repair roofing – hurricane season lasts through November so waiting is not an option -- have multiplied. How can existing price- gouging laws be applied to the roofing and other essential consumer purchases to prevent and respond to sky-rocketing prices that occur during a disaster period, that cannot be justified by an increase in cost to sellers/service providers? What legal or legislative fixes can be used? INSURANCE Home equity loans and flood insurance: What is the Mississippi practice for lenders requiring flood insurance in flood zones for loans secured by real property? Should home equity loans depend on securing flood insurance in flood zones? Are there ways to mitigate the added costs for low-income buyers? Are there examples from other states to model from? Flood insurance commissions: Investigate how insurance companies sell flood insurance. Are agents not selling flood insurance because there is no commission? Is there a legislative fix to create incentives? Can it be paid monthly instead of in lump sum? FAMILY LAW FUTURE DISASTERS Although not top priority now, the Mississippi community is well aware of the need to develop a more comprehensive disaster plan. A few ideas that have been mentioned include the following: DELIVERY SYSTEM ISSUES Provide notice of rights: Currently, a summons in Mississippi does not provide notice of the availability of legal aid or otherwise explain a person’s rights. Research requirements and language used in other states. Improve on statewide telephonic intake system: What strategies can be used to improve the Mississippi legal aid hotline intake system? According to legal aid lawyers, telephonic penetration pre-Katrina was only about 41% statewide, and many of those with phones did not have answering machines making follow-up even more difficult. What creative strategies are available to overcome this obstacle, especially in a state as rural and impoverished as Mississippi? Should the legislature provide telephones with dedicated telephone lines in public places, for example, in county libraries? How have other states responded to these kinds of challenges?
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