After nearly an hour of pleas from residents, the Biloxi City Council did not pass a resolution asking the Mississippi Development Authority to defer funds for the Port of Gulfport expansion to fund housing projects and programs in Biloxi.
But the debate over $600 million of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money is not over.
"The majority of the people have yet to receive homeowners' assistance. The many empty lots in East Biloxi clearly depicts that housing recovery is still a struggle," said Gai Kaitlyn Troung.
Troung spoke on behalf of the group Asian Americans for Change. She and more than a dozen residents urged council members to vote in favor of the resolution. Some of the pleas were personal and tearful as people shared their stories of falling through the cracks of the CDBG program.
"I just need a home, whether it is nice or bad looking. I just need a home to live in," pleaded one woman.
"When tax money is given to be spent in public safety, spend it in public safety. But when money is given to be spent in housing, spend it in housing. That's my issue," another resident said.
And that's where the council members' debate began. Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick read a letter Governor Barbour wrote, saying, quote: "It has been incorrectly reported that this is a diversion of money that was previously appropriated for housing, and the terminology used by the Mississippi Development Authority was the main reason for that misunderstanding."
The letter maintains that $600 million in federal funds was allocated to redevelop the Port, but Congress decided to lump most of the state's requests into one pool of money from the CDBG program.
"It's clear by the amendment submitted by MDA that their intention was to redirect this money out of the $2.15 billion that was for the homeowners grant for Phase One, take that money and redirect it to the Port of Gulfport," said Councilman Stallworth.
The resolution failed with a 3-3 tie vote. Councilman Stallworth plans to bring the measure up next month in hopes that all seven Council Members will be able to cast their votes.
A series of meetings has been set up to help homeowners who are having trouble getting their grant money. Members of the MDA will be on hand at the East Biloxi Coordination Relief Center on Division Street, January 10-12 to meet with residents, one-on-one.