Housing proposal questioned

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Putting the housing authority and Natchez Waterworks under city hall jurisdiction &8212; as one alderwoman has suggested &8212; might do more harm than good, officials with those two agencies said.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said last week she wants to know more about the possible advantages of making the housing authority and waterworks city departments.

As it now stands, aldermen appoint members to the boards of both agencies but have no other oversight.

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Arceneaux-Mathis wants the city to take a more comprehensive approach to healing the city&8217;s most blighted areas. Those areas have a variety of problems, from housing to infrastructure to overgrown lots.

Her hope is that putting all the agencies that deal with such issues under the purview of city government would allow them to take a more comprehensive look at addressing such blighted areas.

Putting those agencies under city hall&8217;s governing power would hopefully make the addressing of such problems more efficient and give city hall more control over how such issues are addressed, she said.

&8220;But we don&8217;t know what the pros and cons would be of doing it that way until we look at other cities,&8221; she said.

Given that, Arceneaux-Mathis has asked City Attorney Walter Brown to look at how other cities structure their governments.

And she&8217;s hoping Brown will have a preliminary report by the board&8217;s Tuesday meeting.

Brown said he is not sure what type of legal steps would need to be taken to make those agencies city departments.

&8220;With the waterworks, state legislation is involved, and with the housing authority, not only state legislation, but federal as well,&8221; Brown said. &8220;My report would probably be that if it isn&8217;t broken, don&8217;t fix it.&8221;

Alan Ingram, executive director of the Natchez Housing Authority, said he would want to know how that agency being a city department would affect its funding.

Although the majority of its funding comes from its rental units, the agency still gets hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the federal government for such things as insurance.

&8220;And I doubt the federal government would want to fund a city department,&8221; Ingram said. &8220;They&8217;d probably want the city to do that.&8221;

For his part, City Engineer and Waterworks Superintendent David Gardner said he thinks the waterworks&8217; mostly independent status is the best way to keep political interference to a minimum.

&8220;When you read the original ordinance that established (the waterworks) in 1903, it states that the mayor and board want the waterworks managed &8230; without political favoritism,&8221; Gardner said. &8220;And even in 2006, I think (the current structure) is still the best way to do that.&8221;

Arceneaux-Mathis said she first got the idea when she visited Memphis to see how that city has worked to create affordable, decent housing for low-income people.

&8220;And their housing authority is under the city,&8221; she said.

&8220;This is not to say that the Housing Authority and Waterworks aren&8217;t doing a good job now,&8221; she said. &8220;But to do something a certain way because that&8217;s the way we&8217;ve always done it isn&8217;t valid.&8221;