Coast clergy urge residents to oppose housing funds transfer to port

Published 4:22 pm Friday, September 21, 2007

A group of Gulf Coast ministers has urged local residents to oppose plans by the state to divert $600 million in post-Hurricane Katrina housing funds to rebuild the Port of Gulfport.

The Mississippi Development Authority announced the plan on Sept. 7.

“Our objective is to ensure the $600 million is used for its intended purpose,” pastor Jason Johnson of the Abundant Life Evangelical Church of Biloxi, said Wednesday at a news conference.

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Faith-based organizations have been bearing the burden of unmet housing needs, said pastor Larry Hawkins of the Union Baptist Missionary Baptist Church of Pascagoula. The state’s assistance program has been flawed from the start, he said.

The MDA issued a statement following the meeting: “The Port of Gulfport recovery is part of the plan that the governor submitted to Congress, the President and the Legislature in November 2005 to obtain this recovery funding. We’re using these funds to rebuild and upgrade the Port of Gulfport to restore jobs and ultimately impact the Coast’s economy. We have created and implemented first-of-their-kind programs for both homeowners and renters, and we will continue to do so.”

Johnson said the group does not oppose economic development or expansion of the port, but it wants the state to find other funds for the project. He said the group is facing a difficult battle.

“I call it Goliath,” Johnson said.

Pastor Darrell Taylor of the Prince of Peace Baptist Church said the task force has collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing the MDA plan.