MDA Meets With East Biloxians About Grants

Much of the struggle to reinvigorate east Biloxi focuses on cash. Many residents who'd like to rebuild need financial assistance. Yet when they apply for homeowners grants, they seem to get tied up in red tape.

On Thursday, the Mississippi Development Authority tried to help people cut through the bureaucracy. The MDA sent agents to east Biloxi. They answered questions that should help people qualify for homeowner grants -- grants that will rebuild a lot more east Biloxi homes.

A few blocks east of MDA's temporary service center, a wobbly looking house on Collier Street was undergoing a massive makeover. Charlie Whitestone was on his 14th volunteer mission with Project Rehab out of northern Virginia.

"It's the hands, the hands that do the labor that make it work," he said.

All around Project Rehab volunteers were east Biloxi homes that can only be rebuilt if property owners receive MDA grants. At the service center, a Biloxi man arrived to meet with MDA agents.

"It's plenty important," he said.

He was at the MDA location to help a neighbor. Grant assistance "would mean a lot to her. It really would," he thought.

The Mississippi Development Authority began its homeowners assistance program in April, 2006. And since then, it's paid out $1.2 billion to eligible applicants. According to MDA, 87 percent of the people who filled out applications in phase one got paid. So have half the people who applied in phase two.

Now, MDA representative Donna Sanford says the push is on to get more flood surge victims the rebuilding grants they desperately need. Sanford watched one east Biloxi woman straighten out her grant situation, and then smile.

"The lady came out awhile ago and said I'm going to sleep so much better tonight," Sanford remembered. "And that makes all the long days worth everything you do. It's great."

Sanford and her MDA team set up a temporary service center in east Biloxi. From now through Saturday, homeowners can visit the Division Street location and get homeowner grant questions answered.

"We're making a media push to get people who haven't applied to come in and apply, so we can reach those last people," she said.

On Collier Street, the Ly family got a gift that trumped the grant program. Project Rehab made sure the Lys didn't have to pay a dime to salvage their house.

"It makes you feel good," Project Rehab's Charlie Whitestone said. "Like we're doing something that, like I said, is part of God's work."

MDA representatives will be back at the Hope Coordination Center on Division Street Friday and Saturday. The development authority also has offices at Singing River Mall, Prime Outlet, and the government building in Bay St. Louis.