Alderwoman seeks to rebuild blighted neighborhoods

Published 12:08 am Sunday, May 24, 2015

NATCHEZ — Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis lives in her childhood home in the 900 block of North Union Street in Natchez.

Her grandfather, who was from Louisiana, purchased the house in the 1920s.

“My grandmother was from Fayette, and she wanted my grandfather to purchase property in Mississippi because Louisiana was so low. If it flooded, she wanted to have someplace to go. So, after the flood in 1927, they moved here,” she said. “I’ve lived in this house most all of my life. I was born in the hospital on Oak Street,” meaning the old General Hospital.

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Arceneaux-Mathis recalls growing up in a vital, diverse neighborhood of nice, well-tended houses.

“This used to be a fairly racially-mixed ward,” she said. “There used to be beautiful homes here. We had two grocery stores down here, and I remember a white family lived in a house near Woodlawn and North Union.”

Today, many of those older houses are in need of repair. Some of them, even those with beautiful architectural features, have been abandoned by previous owners and sit rotting away. Descendants of the owners, many who no longer live in the area, apparently have little interest or the means to renovate the houses.

Those houses become not only a burden on the others around them, but for the City of Natchez, as well.

Arceneaux-Mathis represents Ward 1 on the Natchez Board of Aldermen. Her ward has its share of dilapidated and abandoned houses.

Arceneux-Mathis said she has urged some of the city’s realtors to work to highlight those houses and to help promote rehabilitation of some of the city’s older houses.

Glenn Green, broker and owner of Paul Green and Associates Real Estate in Natchez, said only one thing will help the situation in every ward in Natchez: Jobs.

“The only thing that will fix it is a growing population of employed people who need a house,” Green said. “Hopefully the efforts of Natchez Inc. will ultimately be successful, and we will have a growing population of employed people. We need people who have an income, who can buy a house and buy groceries and furniture and gas and use other service providers here.

“Until we get that growing population of employed people, we will have this problem.”

Sue Stedman with Crye-Leike Stedman Realtors in Natchez agrees with Green. However, she said the situation with many of the dilapidated houses in Natchez requires more than simply someone who is employed and in need of a house.

“These houses are truly fixer uppers, and often they are more than that. They need structural work, too. Financing these homes is difficult. You must have the ability to go to the bank and not only borrow to buy the house, but to fix the house. The bank has to rely on appraisals and estimates of work to be done. It can be pretty daunting for the regular person off the street,” who isn’t a contractor or familiar with buying houses that need significant work, she said.

“Even if you have those employed people, they’ve got to see the value in those houses. They’ve got to get financing on a house that may not be up to lending standards,” Stedman said. “You’ve got to have the money to start with, and you’ve got to have the money to improve the home.”

Arceneaux-Mathis is correct, Stedman said. Many of the homes were once beautiful and could be again after renovation. However, some of the neighborhoods these homes are located in leave much to be desired.

“Even with enough people with jobs, they may not be attracted to these areas. Look around the neighborhood. If houses are falling to pieces and people aren’t cutting grass and tires and trash are in the yards, that’s not going to attract people to your neighborhood. You’ve got to get it cleaned up,” Stedman said. “And, if you have people hanging out on corners and stuff is going on, people are not going to want to make their homes there. You’ve got to make sure that’s not the atmosphere in the neighborhood.”

People want to feel secure in their houses, she said.

Another issue with selling older houses in need of work is unrealistic expectations of current owners.

“There are beautiful homes in these wards, and anyone in the Association of Realtors would love nothing more than to fill them,” Stedman said If an agent has a listing, they want that house to sell. They are going to do everything they can from a marketing perspective to sell that listing. However, many sellers have an unrealistic expectation of price. If you are going to ask top dollar for a house, it better be in tip-top condition.”