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Natchez church buys Vicksburg apartments for affordable housing

By John Surratt

The Vicksburg Post

VICKSBURG — Officials for New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Natchez have plans to rehabilitate and transform a vacant set of apartments in Vicksburg into affordable housing.

The church bought South Street Apartments from Warren County Habitat for Humanity in September for $115,000.

“We are getting estimates for the work that needs to be done, and basically we’ll be doing a complete rehab of the whole complex,” church deacon Aaron Patten said. He said the church at this time does not have a time frame, adding it is applying for tax credits and funding from several sources like the Federal Home Loan Bank and the U.S. Department of agriculture.

“The application period doesn’t open until February of next year, so I would say if all goes as planned with the tax credits and everything, we could possibly be in renovation by October of next year,” he said.

When the project is completed, Patten said, the complex will have 47 units ranging from two- to four-bedroom. Rents will be from the moderate range and up.

He said New Hope officials received a telephone call from someone in the area who told them about the apartment complex.

“They (the caller) know we do a lot of apartment rehabs in Natchez — our community development organization does — and they called. We looked at the numbers and what they (Habitat) were asking for it, and it kind of made sense, and Vicksburg is only an hour and 15 minutes away from Natchez.

“We wanted to bring housing into the area, and then, too, we know part of the area is challenged, so that’s our mission; to get in and not only bring more housing, but to change the concept and the mindset of the people who are having challenges in their life. We are a ministry, number one, and housing number two.”

Creating housing

Patten said New Hope was founded in 1997 by Bishop Stanley Searcy Sr. He said the church became involved in community development in 1999.

He said the church built a new $3.5 million facility in 2002, built 30 apartment units next to the church site, and purchased 29 units in downtown Natchez in the former Brumfield School on St. Catherine Street in Natchez.

Since buying the old school from the City of Natchez in 2013 for approximately $120,000 the church has been working to secure funding through funds from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other grant sources, Patten said.

Built in 1925, Brumfield School was converted into apartment through the city’s Large Unused Municipal Properties program in the 1990s. The property has been vacant since 2011.

The change in the administration when President Donald Trump was elected in 2016 has created some delays in funding,  Patten said.

But now church officials believe they will be able to get the necessary funding to begin the renovation of Brumfield School in the spring of 2019.

“We are very confident that early next year we will be under construction,” Patten said

Patten also said the church is also developing 34 acres of land for a 16-home gated subdivision, and renovating property in Newellton, La., for a 42-unit complex for homeless veterans.

The City of Vicksburg in June 2012 closed 14 of the South Street Apartments because of their condition, and later condemned the rest of the complex, putting it under the city’s slum clearance ordinance, which allowed the city to take control of the property, demolish it and put it up for sale to recover its costs.

While it was vacant, the apartment complex was vandalized for copper pipe and wiring, and was used by vagrants as a place to sleep or get out of the weather.

In 2014, the apartment complex was bought by Kent Smith, a Holly Springs lawyer, who intended to refurbish the apartments. The project never materialized, and Smith in 2016 donated the complex to Habitat for Humanity with the provision that whatever happens to the property it enhances the city, the South Street neighborhood and the city’s downtown district.

Ben Hillyer contributed to this report.