Coalition: HUD issues findings and threatens sanctions against MDA over port project

Contact: Roberta Avila
Steps Coalition

Reilly Morse
Mississippi Center for Justice

Diane Glauber
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

(Gulfport, Miss.) The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has found that the Mississippi Development Authority has failed to adequately retain, track and document permanent jobs at the State Port of Gulfport Restoration Program. As a result, HUD has imposed strict new corrective actions backed by threats of sanctions, according to a management report delivered to the state agency yesterday.

HUD’s report makes clear that MDA’s obligation under the action plan is to both retain and create jobs, specifically to retain 1,286 jobs and to create 1,300 new jobs for a total obligation of 2,586 jobs. This contradicts the position of MDA and the State Port at Gulfport that their sole obligation was to create new jobs, not to retain existing jobs.

HUD has previously warned MDA about is substantial concerns over the failure to satisfactorily track jobs retained at the state port. In 2013, MDA reported that jobs retained at the port had dropped from 1,111 to 814. HUD also found MDA’s reported numbers to be unreliable, as HUD verified only 128 out of 144 jobs that MDA claimed were retained by persons of low and moderate income. Finally, HUD found that MDA had not met its national objective duty concerning the rate of retained jobs held by low and moderate income persons. The 128 jobs retained represented only 10% of the 1,286 total jobs retained and 16% of the latest 814 jobs retained, far short of the 51% requirement.

The new requirements include:

  • MDA shall document the jobs retained in its latest report to HUD, and HUD will determine whether a majority of those jobs were held or offered to persons of low and moderate income;
  • Within 60 days, MDA shall submit new policies and procedures to document jobs to be created at the Port of Gulfport;
  • Starting in February, 2014, MDA must meet with senior HUD staff on a quarterly basis;
  • MDA must submit documentation to HUD for each job retained or created with its quarterly performance report
  • MDA must submit to HUD each agreement as it is executed with a new port business, and the agreement must identify time frames for jobs creation and corrective actions if the business fails to comply with the job creation requirements.

HUD warned that further shortcomings in documenting retained jobs is a risk factor to demonstrating compliance with federal block grant requirements and that if state officials fail to meet these requirements, HUD may apply available sanctions against the State.

“For several years, the Steps Coalition has raised concerns with the State’s compliance with their disaster recovery plan’s commitment to retain and create jobs for low and moderate income persons. HUD now has found that MDA is in violation of its duties concerning both permanent and construction jobs at the state port expansion project,” said Roberta Avila, executive director of the Steps Coalition. “It is time for Governor Bryant to re-evaluate the leadership team at MDA responsible for putting a half-billion dollar public infrastructure investment at risk.”

“This mismanagement of federal block grant dollars is escalating,” added Ruth Story, member of the Port Campaign Coalition. “And the promises of well-paying construction jobs for our people seem to be moving further out of reach. We have got to put reliable people in charge before we spend one more dollar on this massive project.”

The Port Campaign Coalition and Steps Coalition are represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, of New York City.