Pearl River County aiming for affordable housing

Published 4:03 pm Friday, May 25, 2007

Affordable housing has become scarce in the past year-and-a-half because of rising building and land costs due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, but the local branch of a charitable organization has proposed a way to help.

Habitat for Humanity has been providing affordable housing for many years and Wednesday representatives discussed a potential solution with Pearl River County’s Department of Planning and Development during a public hearing on whether the county should apply for federal grant money to conduct a housing study.

Currently, the county has received about $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to form a Land Use plan, said Planning and Development Director Harold Holmes.

However, more money is needed to form a Smart Growth Land Use Plan, said Julia Anderson with Planning and Development.

For that reason, the county held a public hearing on Wednesday to receive public comments on whether the department should apply for an additional $500,000 in CDBG funds.

“That way, things don’t just happen around us, we control how they happen,” Anderson said.

Habitat representatives approached Holmes and Anderson at the public hearing about applying for still more CDBG funds to help provide affordable housing for residents of the county. Kent Adcock, Habitat For Humanity associate director of Field Operations, said that Habitat builds houses to provide homes for people with jobs who intend to pay for the homes.

“We kind of look at it as work force housing,” Adcock said.

There is a way for the county to help provide funding to build those homes and get half of its money back, the Habitat representatives said.

Adcock proposed the county and Habitat form a partnership to apply for CDBG funding to build affordable homes in the county. Anderson that said if the county can legally do it, half of the CDBG money can be donated to build athe other half can be loaned. He said the half of the money loaned could be paid back to the county by the homeowner after five years. The county could then use the money as it sees fit, if there were no legal issues. Anderson said the procedire has been done successfully in other areas.

Holmes said he would discuss the idea with the county attorney to determine if there are legal problems.

To reinforce the organization’s argument, Bob Niemi, president of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity in Pearl River County, said there were teachers who wanted to work in local schools after Hurricane Katrina, but the price of housing in the area kept them from taking the jobs.

“Are we going to have to ask them to come to an area where they can’t afford to live?” Niemi said.

Colter McLellan, a member of the Habitat board of directors, said that with a new hospital coming to Picayune, the hospital might face similar hurdles in attracting people to the area to work in the expanded facility.

A proposal will be drawn up by Habitat for Humanity, with an amount to apply for, and be presented to the board of supervisors. Since there was no public opposition to applying for funds to develop the Smart Growth Plan, the county has applied for the additional $500,000, Anderson said.