Housing Number One Priority At Economic Symposium - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Housing Number One Priority At Economic Symposium

A new roof was going onto a rebuilt house at 626 Second Street in Gulfport. It was part of what a sign in front of the house proclaimed was the south of the tracks renaissance.

As fast as contractors were working, the overall pace of rebuilding was still a bit too slow for George Schloegel. "We're behind. We need to catch up," the Hancock Bank president said, "because that drives the rest of the recovery." Schloegel and Hancock Bank hosted the 40th annual economic symposium -- the first program of its kind since Katrina.

One of the featured speakers at the symposium was Mississippi Power president, and fellow Gulf Coast Business Council member Anthony Topazi. "We cleaned up more debris than ever recorded in the history of the U.S. in about 10 months," Topazi boldly proclaimed. "We've had enormous success. But as you look out, there is a big need, and that need is housing."

According to recent data cited by Topazi, the hurricane flattened almost 70,000 homes across the area. And it damaged another 65,000 housing units. In order to jump start south Mississippi's recovery, Topazi said 80,000 homes and apartments must be rebuilt in the next five years. "That sounds like an insurmountable task. But it isn't," said Topazi. "We just simply have to accelerate the way we do business."

Topazi and the Gulf Coast Business Council helped create a non-profit corporation that will eventually focus on affordable housing needs. An executive director responsible for fundraising should be in place by the end of November. 

Until then, contractors will keep doing what they can to solve what George Schloegel considers south Mississippi's top hurricane recovery issue. "We need to get back to normal. And everything we did before the storm to make the coast great needs to be continued," Schloegel said. "The public needs to be led in such a way with positive things so we can get back to normal."

About 900 people were at the Hancock Bank Economic Symposium today to hear Mr. Topazi's speech about affordable housing needs.

By Brad Kessie

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