Residents: Housing stay away

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

Natchez &8212; Residents near a proposed low-income housing development in Natchez had a simple message for developers Wednesday: We don&8217;t want it.

About 30 people who live in the Bluebird Drive and Oriole Terrace area attended a public hearing about the development, which would have 65 single-family brick homes.

&8220;African-Americans are tired of being packed and stacked,&8221; resident Eva Dunkley said. &8220;We&8217;re not going to allow it anymore.&8221;

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One alderman said he would not support the project and would fight its approval by local boards.

Dunkley noted that a similar proposal in 2000 was met with the same opposition from area residents.

&8220;We were opposed to it in the past, we are opposed to them now and we will oppose them in the future,&8221; she said. &8220;If this is so good, put 30 units out by Beau Pr/ or by the new condos (on the riverfront). Then the low-income and the rich and famous can be together.&8221;

Residents said they were not opposed to the housing, but they did not want it in their neighborhood.

&8220;Every time there is a federally-funded project, it goes on the black side of town,&8221; Charles Sanders said.

Developers David Strange and Reginald Thompson defended their proposal.

&8220;The people you&8217;re talking about putting here are not the hood,&8221; Thompson said. &8220;I know what you&8217;re thinking.&8221;

Strange and Thompson are seeking federal funds through a tax code designation that uses tax credits to finance such projects.

The federal government subsidizes the housing at about 70 percent, so developers can pass the savings on to residents, Strange said.

Strange, also an attorney, represents both the city site &8212; Audubon Estates &8212; and a similar development planned for U.S. 61 North in Adams County.

The houses would be leased to qualified residents for 15 years, after which they would have the option to finance the remaining money &8212; usually about $30,000 &8212; and buy the house.

Under federal regulations, only certain areas qualify for such housing, and Census numbers drive that eligibility, Thompson said.

But Mary Toles, a justice court judge and resident of the area, said she fears such developments will dilute black political power in the community.

&8220;This is gerrymandering people,&8221; she said.

Alderman Theodore &8220;Bubber&8221; West, who represents Ward 4, said that even if the project receives federal funding, the site plan would still need local approval by the Natchez Planning Commission.

&8220;I would lobby against that happening,&8221; he said.

Strange said the developers were required to hold the public hearing and would also accept written public comments for the next 15 days. Residents can write to: David Strange, 4780 I-55 North, Suite 201, Jackson, MS 39211.

If the Mississippi Home Corp. &8212; which administers the federal funding in Mississippi &8212; accepts the application, the next step is to sell the tax credits, Strange said.

If the project is accepted, the timeline could see residents moving in to new homes by fall 2007, he said.