April 23, 2008  
Contact: John Zippert
205 652 9676

The Federation/LAF’s Housing Work and Assistance to Katrina Victims
An interview with housing advocate Carrie Fulghum

For decades the Federation has assisted in the development of affordable, decent and environmentally sensitive housing for people in counties within a fifty-mile radius of its Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC) in west Alabama. Over the years the Federation has helped over 300 families to secure financing for single-family housing and assisted more than 100 families in four multi-family housing developments. The Katrina hurricane debacle tragically effected many throughout the area surrounding the Federation/LAF’s Training Center and the Federation/LAF has since the outset assisted families in need. In this article, which includes an interview with Carrie Fulghum of the Panola Land Buyer Association in Alabama, we will provide information about the work as are doing to assist victims of Katrina and others with housing assistance. Much of the work of the Federation/LAF answers to the needs to low-income elders.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005 considerable damage took place in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. In fact, 22 counties in west Alabama were declared eligible for Public Assistance in the aftermath of Katrina. Unfortunately, there’s not been a lot of media attention to these impacted counties in Alabama. It is reported, however, that Hurricane Katrina led to the single largest direct housing mission in Alabama history. Assistance is still needed for the victims of Katrina.

The counties most effected in Alabama were, of course, those along the Gulf Coast but almost all the counties in the western boundary of Alabama were impacted by the storm. Structural damage, particularly of houses, has been of particular concern, especially those of the elderly and the poor.

Access to federal and state agencies remained problematic for many in these counties. Even 5 years after the incident, many have not been able to repair leaking roofs or other structural problems.

Bush Clinton Katrina Fund
In October 2007, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation/LAF) gained  access to resources from the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund to educate and train Katrina victims on cooperative housing. Funding for repairs is generally from the United States Department of Agriculture and/or the United Way but other organizations that have home repairs in their budget are also sought by the Federation/LAF. The coverage area includes Pickens, Greene, Hale, Sumter and Marengo counties.

Federation/LAF work with Elders
Much of the Federation/LAF assistance has been with the elderly. This work parallels work that the Federation/LAF has been engaged in for years to assist the elderly low income community in Greene County. In the 1990’s because of the lack of housing for elders, the Federation developed the Eutaw Elderly Village in Greene County.

An important development is that on May 14th the Federation/LAF, the Panola Land Buyers Association and the Greene/Sumter Enterprise Community are holding a “Housing Fair”. At the fair counseling on credit issues will be offered, as well as information on refinancing, building new homes and home repairs. The “Housing Fair” will be held at the First Day Care Center on Highway 39 in Sumter County. For more information contact the Federation of Southern Cooperatives at 205 652 9676.

Interview with PLBA’s Carrie Fulghum
on the Post-Katrina Work in West Alabama and with Elderly Citizens

In April 2008 Heather Gray, the Federation/LAF Director of Communications, interviewed Carrie Fulghum of the Panola Land Buyers Association about the needs of the community since Katrina and about her involvement with the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund and the other housing assistance. Ms. Fulghum is represents Alabama on the Federation/LAF's Board of Directors and she is also the Mayor of Gainesville, Alabama.

Q - After Katrina, how effective were services that were available like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in west Alabama?

Fulghum – FEMA did come to west Alabama but they didn’t do a whole lot. They came and got information but really didn’t take action because so many people got letters saying they were denied or that you had to file with the Small Business Administration or your insurance company. With the older people that we work with in the program we have now they were discouraged. Unless they have somebody younger helping them or someone wiling to help them they just didn’t get any help.

There are a lot of people that still need assistance to get their lives back to where they were or close to the way they were before the storm struck.

Q – Could you tell us what you are doing with the Bush Clinton Katrina project?

We are trying to assist families or people that did not get assistance prior to this and didn’t get assistance from FEMA or any other funds that were available.

West Alabama was in the path of Katrina in the area where we live in Greene and Sumter counties. We had a lot of damage. Most it was roof damage and that was severe.  We didn’t lose lives but there was a lot of damage to the homes.

Q - Even after all these years there’s still so much that needs to be done to assist people?

Fulghum - Right! A lot of people are elderly and have not gotten assistance because either they didn’t know about it or there wasn’t enough communication for them to get the information to them. So a lot of the elderly simply did not get the help they needed. I think the problem was they didn’t know how to fill out the forms or how to communicate with FEMA or the other organizations in order to take the next step that they needed. Once they were denied from the initial application with FEMA they just left it alone because they were frustrated with the process.

Q – So what is the Federation/LAF doing to help these folks?

Fulghum  - We’re trying to find funds or other assistance to get their houses repaired. Unfortunately most of the grant money available for this is gone.  So we-re trying to find other resources for them.

Q - So we are seeing some of the repairs being done now?

Fulghum - Yes. Most of its coming from a program called the 504 from USDA for elderly people.

Q - About how many families are you working with?

Fulghum - Right now we are working with about 10 clients whose cases are open. There was another program that we worked with previously that is no longer functioning because of lack of funds. It was called the Sumter County Relief Committee where we had 180 people of all ages that we still need to contact who we know still need assistance.

As it is now we are seeing progress and some of our clients are getting their houses repaired, but as you can see there is still much work that needs to be done.

Q - What about plumbing in the area?

Fulghum – Plumbing is still very much an issue and its not so much out front now so you have to go deep into the communities and you will still see these same type of problems. You’d be amazed how many people right now still don’t have adequate plumbing or inside bathrooms and homes that are still not heated properly or things like that. There are still a lot of people that need that assistance in the rural areas.

In working with the USDA we find that they’re understaffed. They have the programs and the money but they don’t have the people to service the population. It takes them so long. I’ve been working with two elderly people who first put in their application in October 2007 and they are from 80 and 87 years old. To me time is of the essence because they’ve been waiting all their lives and they still haven’t close out the loan and it’s 6 months later now. It shouldn’t take that long especially when people have good credit and the ability to pay back. It shouldn’t take the bureaucracy that long to process an application.

Most of the people who don’t have safe sanitary housing are poor Black people in our communities.

Q - Carrie you are also involved with the Eutaw Elderly Village that was developed by the Federation in the 1990’s.

Fulghum  - Yes. We assist the elderly in any kind of way we can.

We have 30 residents in Eutaw Elderly Village age 62 and older. In fact, we have one gentleman who is 99 and he’s still getting around so what we do is to try to bring in all the services that are out there and agencies for the elderly whatever they might be from community service or housekeeping or house aids. They’re supposed to be able to live on their own but we try to get services that can help them.

Q – Tell us about some of the people living in the Village.

Fulghum  - A lot of them are people who are originally from Eutaw or from Greene County. Many had to leave Eutaw when they were younger to seek jobs because of how the South was 50 or so years ago and now they’re returning home and the family property is no longer there so they have to some to the subdivision to live.

Right now about 10 of the 30 residents are people who have returned home from up north, And some of them have family land but they prefer to live in the apartment complex because of the maintenance free provisions.

Priority is given to low-income people to be able to live in the village.  In fact 60% of our clients have to be very low income.

The Eutaw Elderly Village is unique in Eutaw because it is the only complex that is strictly for the elders.

A summary on housing, however, is that people want and need safe, secure and affordable housing and that’s what we try to help them accomplish.

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 40th year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability. 

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