Organizations Look To Form Housing Trust In MS

Dozens of agencies looking for long term solutions to Mississippi's affordable housing problems are considering the formation of a housing trust as a possibility. A housing trust is a fund set up by state or county governments using money generated from a particular source, for instance a real estate transfer tax. That money is then designated to affordable housing needs.

On Tuesday, an expert talked with community leaders about what they might face in Mississippi if trying to develop such a program here.

With repairs underway, it won't take long before families are once again living in Hope Six in Biloxi. Still developments like this can't answer all of South Mississippi's affordable housing needs. That's by the Biloxi Housing Authority wants to learn more about housing trust funds.

Director Bobby Hensley said "I think it is the long term tool that will help us proceed on for years to come."

Mary Brooks, of the Center for Community Change told Hensley and others interested in affordable housing how a housing trust fund could help get people into homes.

"Everything from working with the homeless population on their particular housing needs to first time home buyers," said Brooks. "It will include new construction, adding to the supply of affordable housing. It might include assistance that enables somebody to put down first month's rent and utility deposit so they can get into an apartment. It might include repairs on homes that were impacted by Katrina."

Thirty-eight states have housing trusts, most of which get between $10 million and $50 million  a year. Each state decides how to fund the trust, through taxes fees or loan repayments; it's public money that states earmark for affordable housing.

Brooks say the best choice for Mississippi would be the one most likely to win government approval.

"If we're going to convince the legislature to make what honestly is a very tough decision for them on how to spend scarce resources, they need to hear from a full range of interests in Mississippi that this is worth doing," said Brooks.

The dozens of community groups say they plan to work together to do just that. Experts say on average it takes three years of campaigning to convince a state legislature to establish a housing trust.