Supervisors share concerns, ideas about affordable housing

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A portion of the federal Katrina housing money could be used to create a revolving loan program to help qualified buyers. That idea was among several discussed by Harrison County supervisors Monday.

They met with Gulf Coast Housing Director Gerald Blessey, who's been gathering input at a series of such meetings across South Mississippi.

Supervisors shared ideas, concerns and frustrations during this latest discussion. Housing director Blessey is looking for suggestions on how best to spend another $200,000,000 that will be allocated for the small rental assistance program and workforce housing.

"The purpose of this meeting is actually just to solicit your input on the remaining funds that we have," said Blessey, who told supervisors the need for affordable workforce housing is still great.

He says unfilled ship building jobs are a testament to that fact.

"Northrop Grumman has a thousand jobs. John Dane has 250 jobs. There are several thousand, we estimate about three thousand jobs unfilled that, if we had adequate housing, at an affordable rate, in the right places, those jobs could be filled," he said.

"Part of the long term workforce housing is causing issues in the standard market place. That's one of the reasons a lot of these homes are unfilled," said Supervisor Kim Savant.

With an abundance of existing homes for sale along the coast, supervisors told the housing director they'd like to see at least part of the long term workforce housing fund help qualified buyers purchase these existing homes, rather than paying for new construction.

"And there are homes all over the market: Jackson, Hancock and Harrison County. And nobody is buying, cause they can't afford it," said Supervisor Connie Rockco.

Blessey says one solution could be setting aside a portion of the un-allocated $100,000,000 for a community-based revolving loan program.

"If you did fifty percent with this community fund and fifty percent with a conventional mortgage at six and a half percent, that gets you down to about, if you did the community fund at one percent, you've got a three and a half percent loan. That makes up the difference for the insurance increase," said Blessey.

Blessey says he's already talked with a consortium of local banks about the idea of establishing a revolving loan program with a portion of the workforce housing money. He'll soon be making his recommendations to Governor Barbour and the Mississippi Development Authority.