Public employees to get coast housing grants

Published 12:52 am Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Officials say 267 first-responder and public-sector employees have qualified to receive up to $40,000 each for an affordable housing program on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a region still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Gov. Haley Barbour and Mississippi Power Co. CEO Anthony Topazi said during a news conference on Monday that the program is one of a number of efforts under way to address the coast’s affordable housing crisis.

The program was launched in August by the Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation, a nonprofit organization headed by Topazi.

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The Regional Employer Assisted Collaboration for Housing program, or REACH, provides a 3-to-1 match to employer contributions for qualified workers earning less than 120 percent of the area median income. That’s about $60,000 a year for a family of four.

In addition to employer contributions, the program uses funding from the $5.4 billion in federal dollars the state received after Katrina struck in 2005.

Topazi said $2.7 million in funding from Barbour’s Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund will help local municipalities participate in REACH by providing the employer-side match.

Topazi said the housing supply on the coast is growing, but insurance and rental costs have increased significantly because of the storm.

Sgt. Craig Necaise of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department, who has qualified for the program, temporarily lived in a FEMA trailer with his wife and two daughters after the storm.

“It’s just a big step in our life just to get a home after Katrina and have somewhere for my two young girls to call a home,” Necaise said Monday.