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Musgrove brings elderly housing idea to city

Vicksburg Mayor Robert Walker and Mississippi Home Corporation executive director Dianne Bolen applaud as Gov. Ronnie Musgrove speaks at the ninth annual Affordable Housing Conference at the Vicksburg Convention Center Monday. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/09/01] Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said here Monday his plan to have prisoners build modular home components for the elderly will have little effect on Mississippi’s mobile home industry.

The idea first announced Thursday during the governor’s State of the State address at the Capitol was the thrust of Musgrove’s remarks Monday at the ninth annual Affordable Housing Conference at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

“We believe that it can work hand-in-hand with the existing mobile home market,” he said.

About 250 real estate agents, home builders, mortgage lenders and MHC staff members attended the opening session of the three-day program featuring various workshops on the housing industry. Musgrove was the key speaker at the kickoff for the event.

The manufactured housing industry, which has a strong presence in Vicksburg, has not objected to the initiative in public. Manufactured Housing has an estimated annual $1.1 billion impact on the state’s economy. The industry represents about 28 percent of all new housing in the state and employs about 3,500 Mississippians.

Musgrove, repeating comments from last week, said he is working with the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation on a feasibility study of using inmate labor to build housing components on the grounds of state penitentiaries for sale to seniors at low cost.

The new homes could be placed anywhere on the property of elderly residents in the state. Prison industries representatives will investigate costs and check on similar programs operating in other states as part of the study, Musgrove said.

“It will involve a revolving loan fund that would be little to no cost to the state,” he said.

Musgrove called the plan a way to address the growing number of state prison inmates and to help find affordable homes for older Mississippians. The inmates would learn marketable skills including carpentry, plumbing and wiring.

Over the next 25 years, the state’s elderly population is expected to increase by about 84 percent. In Warren County, people age 65 and older represent about 12 percent of the county’s 49,000 people, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state’s inmate population has grown from 18,854 prisoners nearly a year ago to 20,255 prisoners today.

Speaking before the governor, Mayor Robert Walker commended Musgrove. “I applaud the creative efforts of Gov. Musgrove to meet our housing needs by using inmate labor,” he said.

Walker said that it was time for local governments to “step up to the plate” to help with housing needs and boasted about the city’s accomplishments in housing for low-income families including the Vicksburg Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity.

When introducing Musgrove, H. Gordon Myrick, chairman of the board of directors of MHC, called the Democratic governor a strong supporter of MHC, a quasi-public corporation, which targets first-time buyers and has programs for people in low-to-moderate income households.

“We are honored to have a governor that is pro housing,” Myrick said.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., was to speak Tuesday at the second day of the conference.