Not all pre-Katrina housing replaced

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 20, 2009

BILOXI (AP) — The state will fall short of replacing the number of public housing units available to Mississippi’s poorest residents along the Gulf Coast before Hurricane Katrina, according to the Mississippi Development Authority.

The agency is sending $110 million in federal funds to four housing authorities to replace public housing lost to Katrina. Although 1,931 units were lost, MDA officials say only 1,588 units for the very poor will be rebuilt.

More than 1,200 of those already have been completed, mostly in Gulfport and Biloxi. Bay St. Louis and Waveland are still without any replacement public housing, although construction has started.

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A recent report by the inspector general for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development criticized the state agency for failing to require complete quarterly progress reports from the housing authorities.

MDA said the reports are incomplete under the terms of its agreements, but insists this is justified because the information has in some instances already been reported, or will be available when units are completed.

Bill Thompson, MDA’s deputy compliance officer, said once report forms were drawn up, it became clear some information did not need to be reported quarterly.

‘‘There was no need to continuously report redundant or extraneous matter,’’ he said.

But housing advocates say they have been unable to track how much housing is being replaced for the very poor. MDA routinely reports the number of units being constructed, but the total includes public housing for residents who earn up to 60, or in some cases 80 percent, of area median income.

About 500 housing vouchers have been sent to south Mississippi for displaced residents to rent private apartments. But housing advocates say vouchers often don’t work for the poorest residents, who are unable to afford first and last month’s rent, plus utilities.

Reilly Morse, an attorney who heads the Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi, said the HUD report shows the state has failed to ensure housing authorities are meeting the needs of the poorest with federal Katrina money.

‘‘Public housing is so important,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s meeting that threshold for the folks who, if we didn’t have public housing, would be homeless.’’


Information from: The Sun Herald,