Government to research alternatives to meet housing needs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Aldermen are researching the need for more decent and affordable housing for low-income residents &045;&045; and possible ways to address such needs.

Making sure citizens have housing that is in decent condition helps the city look better &045;&045; important when attracting new industries and residents &045;&045; &uot;and helps people improve their situation,&uot; said Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux.

A study done as part of the city’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 1999, showed 8 percent of housing in Natchez was found to be structurally unsound.

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To further explore the need for new housing, aldermen plan to ask Alan Ingram, executive director of the Natchez Housing Authority, to discuss what housing is already available.

The authority itself has several housing developments, including apartment complexes and subdivisions.

For those units, the authority has a waiting list of almost 200 people &045;&045; although not all of those who have signed up will be able to move into the units at any given time.

After they hear Ingram’s report, alderman plan to invite Martin Boscaccy of the Memphis Housing Authority to discuss what one alderwoman said is that group’s innovative approach to housing.

MHA has used HOPE &045;&045; Housing Opportunity for People Everywhere &045;&045; funds from the

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create mixed-income, mixed-finance housing developments.

Such developments intersperse Section 8 apartment complexes for low-income residents and units for senior citizens with houses for homeowners.

In some cases, such as Memphis’ Lemoine Gardens housing development, the entire development is gearing toward those living at no more than 80 percent of the poverty level.

In other cases, such as the city’s Uptown Square community, 310 units have been built, but only 70 of those are low-income public housing. Many of the homes included in that development are made available to any prospective homeowner.

&uot;The idea is to integrate the neighborhoods and deconcentrate pockets of poverty,&uot; Boscaccy said.

Arceneaux, who toured such facilities during a recent trip to Memphis, said mixing different types of housing and income levels helps combat the stigma that sometimes comes public housing.

And in no way are the units a handout. Those living in the mixed-income, mixed-finance developments must either have a job or be enrolled full-time in college, a GED program or job training. A resident can only live there for two years while enrolled in school.

MHA has also set up programs to help families become self-reliant &045;&045; classes to help them get GEDs and job training and learn family life skills, for instance. Prospective homeowners take classes to help them toward that goal, including credit counseling.

&uot;It’s an attempt to break cycle of poverty and make people realize there’s something better out there than public housing,&uot; Boscaccy said.

And those working toward such goals &045;&045; renters and homeowners alike &045;&045; are more likely to keep their property in good condition, he said.

How are such complexes and subdivisions developed? In Memphis’ case, MHA works with developers who, in turn, receive tax credits for building such units. The city also puts up some funds toward the developments, although figures weren’t available as of press time.

&uot;None of it works unless the city is willing to put up a certain amount,&uot; said Boscaccy, whose organization has received more than $100 million in HOPE funds from HUD for the developments. &uot;You’re also graded (by HUD) on how well you leverage such funds with funds from the community.&uot;

While the HOPE program is supposed to be discontinued when the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, Boscaccy and other housing advocates throughout the country are lobbying to have it continued.

The key is to find out how much money cities of Natchez’s size are eligible for, whether through HOPE or other programs &045;&045; and Arceneaux said that’s something she plans to find out.

Meanwhile, money is still available through the city and county’s homeownership programs.

The city’s home grant program, in which $190,000 is still available, provides up to 20 percent of the purchase price of a house, including down payment and closing costs.

The program is open to first-time homebuyers who, among other qualifications, meet certain income guidelines. Income limits raise with the number of people in a household &045;&045; no more than $20,150 a year for one person or $28,800 a year for a household of four.

The city also administers Adams County’s housing revolving loan program, in which $238,000 is still available.

Through that program, would-be homebuyers actually qualify for two loans, the first of which is for 80 percent of the home’s purchase price.

The second mortgage is for 20 percent of the home’s purchase price plus closing costs for down payment assistance.

The program is open to people who, among other things, have a household income of no more than $37,600 and have not owned a home in the last three years.

But City Planner Bob Jackson said a more comprehensive solution to the city’s housing needs would be to form a separate community housing development organization to coordinate such efforts.

&uot;In many cities, the CHDO develops a housing program,&uot; Jackson said.

Developing new housing actually be easier than renovating some of the city’s older, more dilapidated houses, since many of them seem to be beyond repair, Jackson said.