Misconception About Affordable Housing Slows Recovery

Rev. Shari Prestemon is passionate about working to provide affordable housing for everyone who needs it. The executive director of Back Bay Mission in Biloxi sees evidence of the problem firsthand. Folks often come to the mission asking for tents or somewhere to stay.

"We have to educate ourselves on the issue of affordable housing. What does affordable housing mean? What does it look like?" says Rev. Prestemon.

Back Bay Mission has dealt with affordable housing issues for decades. Post-Katrina, its mission is expanding from housing rehab to new construction. Thousands of residents now living in trailers, will be trying to transition into affordable homes.

"Wages are not going up at the same rate as housing costs. We've seen housing costs go up anywhere from 30 to 40 percent since Hurricane Katrina. The housing that is going up, whether that's condos or others, mostly is not housing that certainly people we care about most, in the low income bracket, is able to even consider," she said.

Storm-damaged Hope Six houses will soon provide affordable housing for several hundred families. These attractive homes are a good example of today's "low income" affordable housing. They don't fit a popular misconception.

"The problem is that it seems like local folks' mindset about that housing are based upon an old model, an old 1940's barracks era housing project model, that's not the same as what's being proposed today," says attorney Reilly Morse, who works on housing issues with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

The Biloxi Housing Authority wants to provide more developments like Hope Six. But post-Katrina obstacles are making it more difficult.

"The cost of land. The flood elevations. And of course insurance costs," said Bobby Hensley, the director of Biloxi Housing Authority.

Housing advocates say accelerating the pace of repairing storm-damaged properties will help get more people out of trailers. But new construction must also be part of the equation.

"I think there has to be an acceptance or a resolve by the community, the political leaders, the community leaders, that this is something we need to do. We need to see this happen," said Everett Lewis, who works for Back Bay Mission on housing related issues.

The most widely accepted definition of "affordable housing" means spending no more than 30 percent of your annual income on housing. Of course insurance is part of that cost. And since Katrina, skyrocketing insurance rates have helped push many people beyond that 30 percent.