Gulfport's hesitancy to approve new affordable housing developments could soon put the city under the scrutiny of the federal government. On Wednesday, the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority sent a letter to HUD's Community and Development Block Grant office expressing concern about Gulfport's denial of projects funded through tax credits. It's the latest in an ongoing conflict between Region Eight and the city.
The letter dated April 25, 2007 makes two requests. First, it asks for an investigation into whether Gulfport is making good on its agreement to help Region Eight develop affordable housing. Secondly, the letters request that Gulfport's share of the state's $38 million in community block grant money be suspended until the inquiry is finished.
A Region Eight official said negotiations with the city have broken down and the Housing Authority felt it had no choice.
Near the intersection of Cowan and Dedeaux Roads is where Region Eight and its partners want to build Sand Stone which is a 96 unit affordable housing development. The city of Gulfport said "no." Region Eight officials say they are tired of hearing "no."
Region 8 Spokesperson Jessie Billups said, "We feel that we've been blocked. There's been obstacles placed on us whereas to try to rebuild and to try to development new developments of affordable housing. To my knowledge and understanding there has been zero tax credit properties that's been allowed to proceed forward."
Region Eight voiced its frustrations in a letter to HUD.
It says in part, "The city's Consolidated Plan asserts its goal to identify and abate barriers to affordable housing and to assist in the development of more affordable housing, including a statement lending support to Region Eight's efforts to develop mixed income affordable housing sites and obtain housing credits via the Mississippi Home Corporation. Region Eight believes the city of Gulfport has not only failed to meet these commitments and obligations as delineated in its 2007 Consolidated Plan, but has actually been the perpetrator of barriers preventing the development of affordable housing within its city limits."
Billups said, "We're hoping they [Community Planning and Development] will find the city is not compliant with their statements of working with the Housing Authority to develop and provide affordable housing for citizens in the area. We are hoping that they will find out that maybe the funds they [Gulfport] are using in what I call fraudulent, or what borders on fraudulent, statements to secure that certification approved when they're not actually following the certification."
Billups says Region Eight called for an investigation so federal officials can determine if the city is in violation of the agreement.
"I think it's going to be in the hands of the Planning and Development Division to determine what to do should they determine that they are actually in violation of their consolidate plan. At this point I don't know what actions they will do," said Billups.
"We are hoping they will force the city to comply with the Consolidated Plan or hopefully they will suspend and remove those funds that they've already allotted to the city. "
Council member Barbara Nalley said the administration and council has been in meetings this week discussing affordable housing, and it appears some projects will be approved.
As far as Region Eight's request to HUD, she said, "If they want to have us investigated, bring it on because they will be investigated too. Intimidation is not something I will participate in."
Nalley says the city is holding Region Eights to the same standards as any other developer who wants to build in Gulfport.