Habitat leaders frustrated by vacant homes in "blitz" neighborhoods

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The building blitz that got so much notoriety six months ago, now has people asking a very basic question. Why are so many of those Habitat for Humanity homes still vacant?

Volunteers from around the world came to south Mississippi last May. And in one week, they erected 30 new, affordable homes. Twenty four of those homes are still empty.

The buzz around south Mississippi six months ago built hope for everybody. "Exhilarating. Exciting," were the two words Habitat for Humanity Chief Executive Officer used to describe that week. In one week last May, Monforton watched volunteers unlock opportunities for 30 families.

However, six months later, eight of the 10 Biloxi houses built that week remain empty. And only four people have moved into the 20 building blitz gifts in Pascagoula. "There is a sense of frustration there, absolutely," said Monforton.

So six months after the world watched windows be installed, and houses go up, 80% of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project homes still have locks on front doors. And that's how they'll remain, until the families assigned those homes meet Habitat's strict requirements. "When we rush families to move into houses before they are ready or they've met their obligations, historically we don't see that we've had the greatest success," Monforton said, "we don't share the same successes with those partner families as those that wade through the mud, are forced to save the dollars. We have better homeowners."

To buy and move into a roughly $80,000 home, a Habitat family must spend up to 300 hours building other homes. The owner must attend Habitat classes. And he or she must save almost $4,000 for insurance and closing costs. "We have a strict program. And again, it is not a giveaway," said Monforton.

As a matter of fact, three Biloxi homes have been reassigned to new owners, because the original applicants from the Carter blitz couldn't complete Habitat's rigid criteria for ownership.

While they were here for the building blitz, Habitat volunteers also renovated 32 hurricane damaged houses in north Gulfport. According to Habitat records, all 32 of those homeowners have moved back into their homes.