Senior housing can't be built on Biloxi's beachfront

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi Housing Authority's ambitious plan to create more senior housing has hit a snag.  Property it owns near Highway 90 and Brady Drive is in FEMA's velocity zone.  Consequently, the housing authority can't rebuild the apartments Katrina destroyed.

So what does that mean for affordable senior housing options in Biloxi?

Velda Skrmetta moved into Gulf Shores Villas when her Seashore Mission home was going to become a condominium building.

"I'm tired of moving," she said.

So when the Biloxi Housing Authority is done with a $1.2 million renovation of Gulf Shore Villas, Skrmetta is staying put.

"I like it here.  I know my neighbors," she said.

In a few weeks, her apartment will get a new air conditioning unit, new carpeting, and a new coat of paint.  Those repair projects are among the laundry list of items being updated by the BHA.  When the work is done, the 100 unit complex on Atkinson Road will become the housing authority's newest senior living center.

Bobby Hensley is the Biloxi Housing Authority's executive director.

"What we're trying to do is cash in on that piece of the market, and make places available for seniors," he said.

The BHA paid $6 million to take over the day to day operations of Gulf Shores Villas.  That investment became necessary once Hensley realized a federal government flood map prohibited the BHA from rebuilding its Beauvoir Beach location.

"We'd like to utilize all the property that we had prior to the storm, but apparently we're not going to be able to do that," he said.

Beauvoir Beach is in a FEMA velocity zone.  Consequently, federal money can't be used to develop that property.

Before velocity zone maps came out, the Biloxi Housing Authority spent $1.7 million to buy six hurricane damaged parcels on Brady Drive.  By owning that land, the housing authority could ask architects to design a secondary entrance in and out of this waterfront project.  But that entrance became obsolete when the housing authority found out it could no longer redevelop the property.

"It just changed our strategy somewhat," Hensley said.

Instead of building a new complex on Highway 90, Hensley's group bought Gulf Shores Villas.  When the renovations are complete later this year, 100 seniors will become Biloxi Housing Authority tenants.

Hensley said that for now, the Biloxi Housing Authority would hold onto its Highway 90 property. He expects that someday a private developer will purchase it.

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