Affordable housing bill could turn profits into low-income rentals

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - An affordable housing bill in Jackson that could turn housing authorities into big time developers. Here's the plan under consideration. Non-profit groups like the Biloxi Housing Authority would become partners with for-profit developers. Any money generated from the homes that partnership created would be pumped into low income home construction.

The bill's author is Senator Billy Hewes. He said the concept of creating additional revenue for affordable homes was solid. But the language in the bill could be tweaked before it's adopted.

At the corner of Splendor and Hope in east Biloxi, the satisfaction of owning an affordable home provides hope for residents in the Biloxi Housing Authority's Hope VI neighborhood. Bobby Hensley is the housing authority's director.

"That is the essence of why we went in there and built that community," he said.

But, Hensley feels somewhat helpless these days, because creating more affordable housing options like Hope VI is no longer affordable for his housing authority.

"Affordable housing is difficult, at best, right now," he explained.

So Gulfport Sen. Billy Hewes introduced Senate Bill 2303. It redefines rules, so non-profit housing authorities can create for-profit subsidiaries. Those companies would be allowed to build homes for the general public. The bill's ultimate goal is to pump the money created from those home purchases back into affordable housing communities.

"People who owned their own homes that were passed down from generation to generation may have lost those homes. And now they need an affordable place to live," Henley said.

Another supporter of the housing partnership bill is Fannie Brown. She attended a Mississippi Home Corporation conference in Biloxi where the affordable housing bill became a hot topic.

"The housing authority already knows what their clients can afford," said Brown, a member of a community action agency in Natchez. "So if they can become a developer, and develop affordable homes for their clientele, it will make it a lot easier for people to get into home ownership."

Hensley pointed out that Mississippi is behind the curve on this sort of initiative.

"This is something that's being done around the country," he said. "HUD recommends that housing authorities find ways of making money to supplement the fact that the federal government is cutting our subsidies every year."

Homebuilders who've heard about the housing partnership have raised some concerns about the bill's language. Marty Milstead is an executive vice president of the Mississippi Homebuilders Association.

"It sounds like they want to basically have a free pass to do whatever they want, which is outside of their mission," he said after hearing about the bill.

So on Monday, state's homebuilders will meet with housing authority members, and Gulf Coast Housing director Gerald Blessey. Blessey said the discussions should focus on how the bill could be changed to make everybody happy.