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Legislative committee critical of Miss. housing agency

The Mississippi Housing Corp. has awarded incentives to builders with poor track records, according to a legislative watchdog group.

The Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee released a report this week saying MHC fails to let the public review changes made to its housing priorities and the application process for developers.

“This practice has the potential to create the appearance of impropriety and could have a negative impact on the perception of fairness of administration of the program,” PEER said.

MHC Executive Director Dianne Bolen said the agency works hard to seek public input and doesn’t hand out tax credits to developers who consistently fail to comply with regulations.

Bolen said MHC properly makes changes to its housing plan that usually are federal mandates requiring quick action.

“This language in the (plan) provides for MHC to get housing units on the ground in the quickest possible manner, for example, in response to federal legislation for Hurricane Katrina,” Bolen said in her response to the report.

“Additionally, PEER does not provide any evidence of any impropriety based on the cited language,” she said.

PEER said MHC has given tax breaks to developers who failed to comply with requirements in past MHC housing projects.

Bolen said MHC has awarded incentives to some developers with spotty incidences of breaking the rules but never those “who have blatantly failed to comply” or continue to be in violation.

“We believe we have developed a (tax-credit program) that meets the goals of MHC and more importantly the affordable housing needs of the citizens of Mississippi,” Bolen wrote.

Congress expanded the tax program to help Mississippi rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Developers wanting to build such housing around the state are competing for a limited number of tax credits MHC has available.

There were a record 117 applications statewide. Developers are bidding for a share of the $43.5 million in tax credits. The 117 applications are for 10,952 houses and apartments.

On the Net:

PEER Committee: http://www.peer.state.ms.us