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Community leaders tackle area housing needs

VIDALIA — Home is where you make it, and a group of approximately 20 area residents are setting out to make sure that home is in the Miss-Lou.

The Miss-Lou Regional Steering Committee’s subcommittee on housing had its first meeting Tuesday afternoon, with real estate agents, developers, home owners and city officials all present to give ideas on how to fix the housing problem in the area.

“Our issue is to identify the housing that we do have, in both the county and the parish,” housing subcommittee liaison Liz Brooking said. “Once we identify that, we have to try and project what we are going to need in the future, especially with the new industry coming in.”

Brooking said the future arrival of Elevance and Enersteel in Natchez will bring with it new jobs and an influx in housing needs.

“If everything goes well, we could possibly even get spin-off businesses or other industries here,” she said. “In case things do start to snowball and improve, we need to make sure there are housing options available.”

Brooking said to get developers interested in moving to the area, the Miss-Lou has to first make itself an appealing option.

“People with money to invest are always thinking of ways to put that money into other things to make more money,” she said. “But before they invest, they want to know for sure they are going to make money.”

Brooking said developers want to invest in an area they know will sell, and making sure properties are clean and well maintained is a great way to help spruce up the area for development.

“People will move anywhere they can make money,” she said. “So we have to have a reason for them to come here, and they have to feel safe investing their money in the area.”

With many homes in the Miss-Lou for sale, subcommittee interim chair and Crye-Leike Realtor Patti Sanders said the market for rental property is almost non-existent.

“We have calls every day, but we have nothing to rent,” she said. “Most people that have houses for sale, are needing to sell their house to move into another one, so there are no rent houses.”

Brooking said a lack of temporary housing is a big concern for the area, since many jobs coming to the area will be temporary.

“Some people are only going to need a place to stay for a couple of months,” she said. “They need affordable places to stay also.”

Brooking said special housing units for people with lower income, such as Section 8 housing, are also too crowded in the area, with waiting lists as long as two years at some.

Due to the influx of people seeking temporary housing, Brooking said the group has to work on finding more options.

“Whether it be finding more people with rent houses, or finding some way to get some complexes here, we need something to fill the current need we have, and to help with the future need,” she said.

Brooking said the housing is not just for future Miss-Lou residents.

“This is for the people here also,” she said. “We have a lot of elderly and financially challenged residents in the area with no options, and we can’t just let them fall by the wayside.”

Georgianna Berry with the City of Vidalia said one issue that also needs to be addressed to help the housing problem is to educate current area residents on the options available to purchase a house.

“One thing we have found (in Vidalia) is that people aren’t aware of what options there are for them,” she said. “If they don’t know what they are, they can’t get it.”

Berry said she has taught many residents how to apply for credit, financing, loans and even government grants for housing.

“Our goal is to make sure they are educated,” she said. “These options are things people just don’t know about, and we can’t expect our residents to go out and apply for them if they don’t know.”

Berry said many families that receive the grant lose their money, and have to foreclose after a few years.

“We need to also work on continuing to educate residents on how to keep up with everything,” she said. “Otherwise it is all for nothing.”

Berry said the subcommittee needs to make sure that while it seeks more and better housing options for the Miss-Lou, they need to also focus on educating area residents.

“There is so much money out there for single family homes,” she said. “And people need to take advantage of that.”

Brooking said the subcommittee will spend the next six to nine months formulating a plan to improve housing in the Miss-Lou.

“It is going to take us that long to gather all the information and get organized,” she said.

Brooking said the subcommittee is going to start by identifying all the vacant properties in the area.

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