Miss. advocates push for housing trust fund

Published 11:19 pm Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A snapshot of Mississippi’s housing situation shows dying inner city Jackson neighborhoods, squalid conditions in the Delta region and thousands still homeless on the Gulf Coast nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, advocates say.

The Senate Housing Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss with housing advocates some of the state’s problems and a proposal to develop a trust fund to address the needs.

The bill filed by Housing Committee Chairman Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, would establish an affordable housing trust fund to be administered by the Mississippi Home Corp., which was created by the state Legislature in 1988 to help low- to moderate-income families purchase homes.

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A housing trust fund bill died last session, and legislative leaders have said it will be difficult to approve any new proposals requiring additional funds in wake of the national recession.

Frazier’s bill doesn’t ask for a state appropriation, but a similar measure in the House does. The Senate bill requires that 50 percent of the fund be used each year for rental housing development or rehabilitation.

Louis Armstrong, deputy director of Jackson’s Department of Housing and Community Development, told lawmakers if the state’s capital city doesn’t get some assistance, many of its neighborhoods will die.

A study conducted by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government found that of the city’s 75,409 residential housing units, 10 percent are vacant or abandoned. At least 70 percent of the owner-occupied housing was built before 1960.

Armstrong said 26 percent of the city’s population lives below poverty level.

“We support this legislation. We support the need to rebuild our neighborhoods,” Armstrong said.

Thirty-nine states have housing trust funds, said Mary E. Brooks of the Center for Community Change in Frazier Park, Calif., and revenue sources for the trust funds include real estate transfer tax, interest from escrow accounts, bond and fees.

Kathleen Johnson of the Waveland Citizens Coalition said 1,000 homes need to be built in Hancock County immediately to replace structures lost to Katrina’s storm surge in 2005.

“Our biggest problem has been the bureaucracy,” she said.

The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights conducted a 2007 campaign that focused on the Delta region, said LaToya Davis, the center’s program director.

Davis said hundreds of local residents lived in homes that had infestations, broken sinks and toilets and were poorly insulated. She said they “were forced to live in conditions not fit for animals, let alone human beings.”

The bill is Senate Bill 3140.