Housing needs already here, before Rentech

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Home is where the heart is, but the standard heart prefers a three bedroom, two bath with a fenced in backyard.

And in Natchez, that can be difficult to find.

My job means reading copy, correcting misspelled words, designing pages and settling the standard newsroom disputes.

Email newsletter signup

But it also means hiring people. And hiring people means helping them find a place to live.

In a year, I’ve helped place approximately five new employees in Natchez housing. That’s a post-Katrina year, mind you.

We don’t think about it as much anymore, but Katrina’s effects are still around us, and one of the easiest places to spot them is in the housing market.

Realtors will tell you that things just haven’t ever been the same since the influx of hundreds of Katrina families in the weeks and year after the storm.

Our market tightened and our prices went up.

Newspaper employees — typically young singles or young families — like to rent. Most of our new hires are new to town, not long out of college and unschooled in the ways of home buying. They are seeking small, yet nice, downtown apartments or quaint houses perfect for the photos home to momma.

But right now, those things don’t exist.

For about three weeks I’ve been trying to place a young single guy and a 20-something man with a wife, a baby and a dog.

I toured two local rental houses, taking photos and mental notes to share with our new hires. One was a re-do nicely crafted by two local developers. No dogs allowed. The second home was a dump.

Late last week, after several near panic attacks, we found a home for the bachelor. He’ll be staying at a local apartment complex, but it seemed to take more than a little maneuvering to get him in there.

The family of three is still homeless.

They’ve called local Realtors and been told there’s nothing for rent in this town.

We’ve called all our connections that may have garage apartments and the like. Nothing.

Natchez is full. Turn around. Go home.

Is that the message we want to send to folks moving to town? I hope not.

Somewhere, somehow Natchez has missed the boat on rentals. To me, it seems to be a financial gold mine. Obviously the needs is there, won’t someone answer the call?

Tuesday representatives from Rentech, Inc., talked with local leaders about the plans for their plant. President Hunt Ramsbottom said the company was working now to find housing for construction workers near their East Dubuque, Ill., facility.

Ramsbottom said they’ll need approximately 1,500 to 2,000 workers to get the Natchez site going. That type of construction is going to bring people to Natchez.

But they’ll need places to live.

Where will we put them?

It’s time for money-loving developers to step up to the plate. Let’s renovate some of our rundown, older homes into rental properties. And let’s build some housing from scratch.

Natchez needs to be ready for the boom that’s coming.

And in the meantime, I’ve got a family of three moving to town this week with no place to live. They’d like to rent a three-bedroom, two-bath with a fenced in backyard. Let me know if you know of anything.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.finley@natchezdemocrat.com.