Sale of MEMA cottages set to begin

Published 1:26 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Thinking about going to Louisiana at the end of this month to buy one of the Gustav-damaged MEMA cottages? If so, you’d better think twice. That’s because after you win the auction for one, transport it, and get it set up on your property, you’ll discover you can’t permit it as a residence in Pearl River County leaving you with one expensive shed.

DeWayne Gray, MEMA Cottage Disposition Director, told the county Board of Supervisors at Monday’s meeting that the cottages that are up for auction are not for living space, noting all, to some degree, have been under water and are damaged and therefore are now titled “salvage.”

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors said the county will not permit them as a residence, nor allow them to be used as housing.

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“I think we were one of the first counties to say we would allow the cottages to be used as permanent structures,” said board president, Anthony Hales, also District 1 supervisor. “I want to help the people of Pearl River County, but I don’t want to open the floodgates that because we said we would allow them, that people will start buying them and moving them here.”

The good news is that if you are already living in one, MEMA is giving you the opportunity to purchase the home. If you were one of those residents within a stone’s throw of acquiring one before the program ended and then came up empty-handed, you may be one of those MEMA will next give the chance to own one.

Additionally, if the board of supervisors has its way, the nearly 400 families living in FEMA campers will be the next in line for the more than 500 returned, undamaged cottages sitting in storage in Gulfport.

Gray appeared before the supervisors at Monday’s meeting to clear up any misinformation and confusion surrounding the sale of the cottages. He told board members that the residents living in the cottages had to first be qualified financially to purchase the homes. “They must prove they can afford it,” said Gray, adding that a sliding scale, depending on the person’s income, was used to determine the actual purchase price. “If they are financially qualified, then we will allow them to purchase the cottage,” said Gray, adding that for some, the price was more than reasonable.

Furthermore, he said, confusion concerning whether or not two auctions for the Hurricane Gustav-damaged cottages were going to be held is due to a change in venues. Gray said originally the damaged homes were stored at a site in Bay St. Louis where the auction company posted a sign advertising the sale.

Gray said the state stepped in and said the damaged homes could not be sold in Mississippi, so all the units were moved to Louisiana. Gray said that all the cottages up for auction have had their HUD and MEMA labels removed. “Those being auctioned April 25 were damaged or flooded in Gustav,” said Gray. “And the title is stamped salvage.”

When questioned by the supervisors what procedures were in place to prevent a resident from the county purchasing one of the homes and putting it on his property to live in, Gray said a number of checks and balances were already in place, but the ultimate agency responsible to oversee that from happening would be the county.

“First of all, some of our folks are working with the people in your department to make sure we are following all of your permitting procedures,” said Gray. “Ultimately you are going to be issuing that final permit, so we have all our checks and balances in place.”

Even so, some of the supervisors were not so sure that would keep someone from circumventing the permitting process. “Let’s say you’ve got a guy out here who has 100 acres and he goes down to Hendersonville and buys one of these,” said District 3 supervisor Hudson Holliday. “What’s going to stop him from buying it and putting it on his property (for a camp)?”

Chancery Court clerk David Earl Johnson suggested that an ordinance could be passed outlawing the use of salvaged units from being used for housing. District 4 supervisor Patrick Lee concurred, saying he believes the best way to address the issue was through the building department and the permitting process.

The housing problem faced by the 200-plus families still living in FEMA campers seemed to be at the forefront of the supervisors prime concerns and the fact that MEMA was not looking to place them in the extra cottages.

“I think the thing that makes it unpalatable to me is if we have people living in these little boxes and for some reason they never qualify or fit into the parameters for some reason, why are these people not able to buy one of these cottages?” asked Holliday.

District 5 supervisor Sandy Kane Smith agreed, saying that the board’s and MEMA’s focus should be on the Katrina-displaced families facing homelessness in the near future. “I’d like us to concentrate on those 300 people,” Smith told Gray. “Maybe you can talk to (the Pearl River County Housing Authority) — they have a plan I think may work.”

In other business:

— An added police presence will be utilized during all road maintenance projects this year to cut down on drivers that ignore speed limits, no passing zones and road rules during repaving and road repair projects.

— Three-way stop signs will be erected at the intersection of Native Dancer Drive and Windance Drive.

— A letter from the county administrator will be sent to all three of the county school districts asking for cooperation in making Sept. 18 a holiday for students in an effort to promote the county fair.

— County Administrator Adrian Lumpkin informed the board of a $15,495 grant from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for solid waste public education and awareness.

— Agreed to cut a check for $140,990 to Sunbelt Fire for a new fire truck for the McNeill Volunteer Fire Department. The state will reimburse the county $70,000 from a matching grant program and McNeill Fire Department will pay the remaining balance.

—Smith told board members that he had assessed the needs of the Pearl River Central Athletic Association’s McNeill fields and said although there was too much for the county to help with totally, that he was ready to cut a check from his fund portion to set up a Dumpster and move a light pole. Lumpkin reminded board members that they needed to consider organizing a recreation commission for the entire county, noting that the county would be able to apply for federal and state grants and possibly receive them , whereas the small, individual athletic organizations would not.

The next board of supervisors meeting is at 9 a.m. Monday, April 13, in the old county courthouse building on Julia Street in Poplarville.