Mayor: We need more quality housing

Published 9:19 am Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lush and expansive houses, from antebellum homes to those still under construction, dot Natchez and Adams County. But the majority of residents can’t afford them.

That’s why the Natchez Housing Authority is so important, executive director Alan Ingram said.

“We’re classified as a nonprofit public entity,” Ingram said. “Qualification is based upon family size, income and disability.”

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Most of NHA’s funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Only a portion comes from rent, he said.

The authority’s board members, on rotating five-year terms, are appointed by the city board of aldermen, but the authority is independent from city government.

At any given time, anywhere from 650 to 725 people live in the housing authority’s nine buildings across the city. How much they pay in rent depends on what they earn.

People can qualify for a low-income or a very-low-income limit, and residents from each are mingled, Ingram said.

“For a one-person family, the lower income limit is $20,450 maximum,” he said.

Some units are set-aside specifically for the disabled or elderly, and all residents and the authority itself have to meet federal HUD guidelines.

The rules

For example, federal HUD guidelines require that residents go through a screening process before they are allowed to rent from NHA.

After they’re settled in, if residents are convicted of drug violations, they are immediately evicted, Ingram said.

“The entire family has to move,” Ingram said.

“It’s HUD requirements.”

But the rules aren’t just for the residents. The housing authority has to meet standards, too.

They have to meet certain standards of safety, health and the demographics they house.

“HUD sends anonymous questionnaires to residents each year as part of our grant,” Ingram said.

“We’re also graded on physical inspections. HUD sends inspectors to go over the grounds, the apartments, even the office buildings.”

Housing in Natchez

Having safe and adequate housing in Natchez is one of Mayor Phillip West’s priorities, he said.

“The bottom line is, I think everybody recognizes we have a shortcoming in housing development in the area,” West said.

“It’s quite evident we still have a lot of people in our community who don’t have access to adequate housing.”

West pointed out some of the small, run-down rental houses around town.

“We’ve got people living in substandard housing throughout the community, homes or apartments they’re renting,” West said.

“We need more quality housing in our community.”

Better housing was not only good for current residents but would have the potential to draw new ones, he said.

“The more quality housing in your community, the more attractive your community is to people who come from outside who might want to locate in the community.”

An alternative

Not all government-funded housing in Natchez comes under the housing authority.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly called Section 8, allows privately owned buildings that qualify for it to house low-income residents.

The residents pay a percentage of their income to the landlord.

The federal government reimburses the landlord for the rest.

The regional housing authority in McComb handles most of Natchez’ Section 8 housing, Ingram said.

In fact, there is more Section 8 housing in Natchez than NHA housing, Ingram said.

“That’s simply because Natchez was very late in establishing a low-income housing authority,” Ingram said.

The NHA was formed in 1969, well after most nearby towns had in the 1930s, he said.