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MSJ legal research memo -- remaining issues_9acbeaa35b

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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 (ballen@healingandthelaw.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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