Report Questions State's Response To Coast Housing Crisis

By Jon Kalahar - email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - The state development authority announced Wednesday a $30 million program to jump start affordable housing on the gulf coast. The agency wants to see more private investment.

But a new report from a coast advocacy group says that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what's needed.

"The report reflects a very low response in Mississippi to the needs of especially low income housing," said Sharon Garrison with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Garrison and the Center for Justice helped prepared the report for Steps. It says the state used income waivers approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to redirect over 75 percent of federal funds to programs that benefited wealthier homeowners, private utilities and insurance companies.

"It's something we're trying to address and hoping some of that money is put back into affordable housing, but certainly something that needs to be considered for future emergency response," Garrison said.

The Mississippi Development Authority disputes the report. MDA says it's taken months, if not years to meet regulations from HUD. Just this summer, MDA was cleared to begin distributing checks for its small rental assistance program.

MDA's Chief Operating Officer, Jon Mabry, said, "Overall, our housing initiatives are poised to provide 20,000 to 25,000 low and moderate housing units along the coast."

Plus hundreds of millions of dollars are allocated to rental, workforce and public housing. And more than $2 billion will be given to 25,000 homeowners who qualify.

March 2009 is the deadline on the FEMA trailers and Mississippi cottages. The grant will run out then. Mississippi Emergency Management hopes to work with housing authorities to get low interest loans for those living in cottages. The only problem is some municipalities on the coast won't allow the cottages as permanent structures.