Non-profits say housing availability numbers are misleading

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A day after Gulfport's mayor sounded the alarm on what he calls "a dangerous surplus of available housing," some housing experts say the numbers can be misleading.

In a letter to the governor this week (see below), Mayor George Schloegel said too many developers are wanting to build. Schloegel said their motivation is getting tax credits and not fulfilling the market's demands.

Mercy Housing officials say they get about 20 calls a week, mostly from people looking for help buying homes. So with plenty of real estate up for sale, it should be easy to match houses and potential owners. But there's a catch.

"There has not been a significant increase in wages, but the cost of houses, even though it's dropped due to the economic situation, is still higher than it was pre-Katrina," said Mercy Housing Director Sarah Landry. "With the insurance cost and other costs involved in home ownership, it's still difficult on a monthly basis. Even though the overall sale price looks to be within an affordable range, it's still hard on many working families."

In August, the average home sold for $149,226, according to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Multiple Listing Service. That same month, 780 additional houses were put on the market.

Roberta Avila is director of the Steps Coalition.

"Not everyone who has housing needs is a candidate for purchasing a home. Not everyone who is may be able to afford purchasing these houses that are for sale," she said. "So what we want is to continue a dialog with the mayor about these needs."

Mayor George Schloegel said what Harrison County doesn't need is more work force housing paid for with tax credits. At least two apartment developments have been built in his city this way.

"It's very misleading to say, 'Well, we've got plenty,'" said Avila. "We do have plenty of rental units, but they're not affordable for the families who need them."

Landry agrees there are a lot of vacant market rate apartments. She said rents are starting to come down to fill those vacancies.

As for tax credit properties becoming a problem she said, "I don't think that it's a real concern that we're going to just have this huge request for tax credit development that is going to just overwhelm our cities with tax credit properties."

Landry said she doesn't think the tax credit apartments are taking potential renters away from market rate properties. She said some of the people living in tax credit properties are former tenants of public housing that was destroyed in the hurricane.

The Region Eight Housing Authority has helped develop several tax credit properties in South Mississippi and has others planned. The executive director told WLOX News he's reviewing the mayor's letter and has no comment at this time. Mayor Schloegel is out of town.

We called Governor Barbour's office for a response to the letter, but he too is out of town.

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