A year end progress report from the Gulf Coast Housing Czar - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

A year end progress report from the Gulf Coast Housing Czar

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More than 50,000 housing units that were either destroyed or substantially damaged by Hurricane Katrina have been repaired, replaced or are under construction. More than 50,000 housing units that were either destroyed or substantially damaged by Hurricane Katrina have been repaired, replaced or are under construction.
Despite progress rebuilding across the coast, many areas are still empty, like Biloxi's Point Cadet. Despite progress rebuilding across the coast, many areas are still empty, like Biloxi's Point Cadet.
Gulf Coast Housing Director Gerald Blessey Gulf Coast Housing Director Gerald Blessey
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

For three and a half years, Gerald Blessey has been the Gulf Coast Housing Director. The job has been monumental: Replace or repair the more than 60,000 housing units that Hurricane Katrina wiped away. What's been accomplished so far is impressive.

"We have repaired, replaced or have under construction over 50,000 housing units that were either destroyed or substantially damaged by Katrina," Blessey said. 

It was not easy dealing with bureaucracy.

"I think the other big challenge was coordinating three levels of government and hundreds of regulations in order to comply with all the rules that go with using federal money," Blessey recalled.

He also remembers the dark days right after the storm.  

"You know, I had been in Vietnam, and we had helicopters overhead and I kind of felt like I was back in the war. Such devastation." 

Many areas of the coast are still empty, like Biloxi's Point Cadet. Mailboxes are still standing that haven't seen a letter delivered in years. Porch stairs lead to nothing. Will that area ever be the same?  

"That's where I grew up and it won't be exactly the same because of the elevation requirements for construction," Blessey said. "Living a 15, 16, 17 feet above the ground is a much different living experience." 

He also feels the insurance crises is another major hurdle to clear.  

"It's got to be solved on the federal level. Mississippi, as a state, is too small of a market to really cure itself. We have the windpool on the state level which makes it available, but it's certainly not affordable." 

While many people, state and federal agencies were involved in our post-Katrina housing recovery efforts, one group of people was absolutely essential.

"We've had a million volunteers come from around the nation to work here in Mississippi and many of them worked on housing. You have organizations like Habitat for Humanity and many other church groups." 

Before we totally recover, one thing has to be done, according to the former Biloxi mayor.

"Prior to Katrina, we had 10,000 more jobs than we have now and we've got to be really creative as a community, both locally and on the state level, to bring jobs back."

Blessey's tenure as Gulf Coast Housing Director could end when the man who appointed him, Governor Haley Barbour leaves office next month.  However, he's open to being re-appointed to the post by Governor-elect Phil Bryant. 

Blessey said he would like the opportunity to finish overseeing the $130 million Neighborhood Home program, which is currently underway.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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