Council hears of housing woes after FEMA subsidies end

Published 11:49 pm Wednesday, February 4, 2009

With Federal Emergency Management Agency-subsidized housing expected to end at the end of February, some Pearl River County and Picayune residents soon may be homeless.

Jameye Martin, with Rebuilding Pearl River County Together, presented some facts and figures to Picayune’s city council Tuesday night, saying that if nothing is done soon, most of those people will be out on the street.

FEMA-subsidized housing is expected to end this month, Martin said. There are about 306 households still receiving benefits from the program. She expects the majority of the people living in those households to have no place to live when the program ends, since most live on a fixed income or no income and have indicated no other options available after the program ends.

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According to information Martin provided to council members, most of those people still in subsidized housing are either disabled or elderly. About 60 percent of people in subsidized housing live within the city limits of Picayune. Most of the cases presented to the council involve people on fixed incomes, not having enough money to pay rent or to purchase their FEMA housing, if the option were presented to them. With a lack of affordable housing in the Picayune and Pearl River County, Martin expects a problem if something is not done.

“We’re going to have a huge homeless population here in Pearl River County,” Martin said.

Interim city manager Harvey Miller said he had heard of people in the recent past breaking into the Picayune Centraplex just to set up a place to sleep. In those incidents, nothing was stolen, but there was evidence that someone had spent the night there.

Miller suggested that Rebuilding Pearl River County Together should consider contacting the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Miller said MEMA would like to put about 70 cottages in the city limits, possibly at the old airport. While the matter is still under consideration by the school district since the old airport is on 16th section land, Miller suggested getting Martin in touch with a MEMA representative at some point to work out any details.

No action was taken on the matter by the council.

More money has been secured by the city for downtown revitalization. The project will pave East Canal Street from U.S. Highway 11 to Mississippi Highway 43 South. Miller said previously the city had received only enough money to pave the road from U.S. 11 to the intersection of Loftin Avenue. Council member Anna Turnage said the city has worked hard to get the extra funds, resubmitting requests when the initial grant proved not to be enough. She said the entire road has been in need of paving for a number of years.

Approval of final payment to Kanduit Construction for work conducted on the Intermodal Transportation Center failed by a vote of three to one. Grant Administrator Barbara McGrew said there were three items remaining on the punch list, one of which involved the heaters that have been fixed. Before the matter went for a vote Council member Larry Watkins asked for city inspectors to check out the building and work to ensure nothing was missed on the punch list.

After more discussion, the council voted on and the motion failed. Mayor Greg Mitchell and council member Jerry Bounds were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Clean up of city drainage has received some funding and the council approved going out for bids on the work. Storm debris still remains in drainage features in Vaughn’s, Downs, Harvey, Sycamore and Monroe branches on East Canal and Fifth Streets. Public Works Director Chad Frierson said the work will involve removing the debris left by Hurricane Katrina from those areas.

While the work will not involve physical improvements to the drainage system, removal of that debris would enhance draining, Frierson said.

Turnage, whose district some of the work will benefit, said she is ready to see the work done before the coming hurricane season. Frierson said he expects the work to be completed by the end of March or beginning of April.

The maximum height for buildings in the city limits may be increased within the approved radius of the Fire Department’s 75-foot ladder truck. The current limit is three stories, or 40 feet. If approved, the new maximum height will be five stories, or 60 feet. Before it is approved, a public hearing will be held on Feb. 17 during the next city council meeting.

The council went into executive session to discuss possible litigation, a contractual mater in Industrial Park, possible sale of land and a personnel matter. No action was taken on the possible litigation, the contractual matter and the personnel matter after the executive session, Miller said. The council did approve selling about 10.67 acres of land in Industrial Park to RefelcTech for about $22,000 an acre.

In other matters the council;

— Proclaimed the month of March as Intellectual Disbilities/Developmental Disabilities Awareness month and approved a request to block off Cottonwood and Forest streets from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to accommodate a crawfish cook off on March 27.

— Approved moving consideration of submission of an application for FAA grant funds to construct a helipad and conduct drainage improvements to executive session and a matter concerning awarding a bid to conduct that work to Kanduit Construction for $96,232.50 until after the executive session. After the executive session, Miller said the council approved submitting the application and awarded the contract to conduct the work to Industrial Environmental Management of Poplarville on its a bid of $99,015.45. Miller said while the winning bid was not the cheapest, it was the best of the two.

— Approved awarding the contract for parking lot improvements at Friendship Park to Huey Stockstill Inc. for $99,398.50. That work will repair damage done to the parking lot to tie down Chevron employee temporary housing at the lot after Hurricane Katrina. The work will be 100 percent funded by Chevron, Frierson said.

The next council meeting is at 6 p.m. Feb. 17.