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Residents balk at plan to build Kings houses

[02/07/01] Vicksburg’s plan to build new houses at Kings for sale to residents met opposition Tuesday night from members of the North Ward Active Citizens group and residents who said the plan was ill-conceived and not suited to the area’s needs.

City officials announced construction of 21 homes last week, but 15 people at the meeting at Pemberton Square mall expressed doubts to Mayor Robert Walker and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young.

The city received $250,000 from the Mississippi Development Authority and is combining that with $63,840 in home assistance loans to build the houses at 61 North and Roberts Street. The area is north of downtown and west of Washington Street.

Roads, water and sewer services have been improved in the area since it was annexed in 1990, a fire station and community center have been added and a police precinct is planned.

The land for the homes was secured by a company known only as Quality Developers, and officials said no city money has been spent on the project.

“Every dime being spent right now is being spent by the developer,” said Young. “The developer owns the property.”

The contract with the company was announced as a completed deal by the city board. Bids were not taken and there was no public discussion of the development, identification of the people involved or other information other than a statement by Young that the plan had been in the works “for some time.”

Director of Housing and Community Development Beatrice Moore said Quality provided the lowest cost and the grant, which was received in 1999, was postponed until the city found a developer it could afford.

Buyers of the homes will get deferred loans of $15,000 to assist with down payments, taxes and closing costs. The loans will be forgiven for a 10-year period, but some residents said they still think payments for the houses are too high.

“People that live in Kings cannot afford these houses,” said Willie Johnson, president of the North Ward Citizens.

The houses will cost $49,478 to $60,036. Others worried resales would be costly.

“There will be a loss,” said Willie Taylor, a resident. “No one would pay that much money for a house in that area.”

Walker said the city would have no control over prices, but that housing in the area is needed and the program is the best the city could find.

The citizens group also raised questions about the cost to build houses through a developer as opposed to through Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that builds homes for low-income families.

Finished prices will be around $66 per square foot, a figure called “extremely high” by Betty Tyler Carson of the North Ward Citizens group. “We don’t think the city should be selling a developer.”

Alyssa Altry of Peoples Appraisal Service said the price is pretty steep. “It basically depends on what other houses go for in that area,” Altry said. “But even $42 per square foot would be on the higher end of the ladder in a low- or moderate-income neighborhood.”

Walker said the additional costs are due to site development and the figures Taylor had were based on raw, undeveloped land.

The group had worked with Habitat for Humanity to build 16 houses in that area at a lower cost. The local Habitat for Humanity president, Jim Chandler, said it was discussed with city officials, but timing was a problem.

“We couldn’t fit that number of completions in the time frame we had,” said Chandler. He also said Habitat houses cost about $35,000 to $38,000 but labor is free. He said the cost would likely double if labor were added.

There is no definite time Quality will complete the houses, but Moore said the grant money needed to be used as quickly as possible.

“The state hasn’t said we’ll take the funds back in two or three years’ but you can’t go back for anymore until you use it,” Moore said.

The houses are for low- to moderate-income families with reasonably good or easily repairable credit. Moore said so far two applicants appear to be eligible for the homes. The city has received only 10 applications, but some residents said too many people will be excluded.

Household income will be a consideration for eligibility and some applicants may qualify for additional money through the Rural Development Program.

The agreement between the city and Quality Developers maintains that if Quality builds the houses and they meet all the required standards, then the city would find tenants for the homes.

To gauge the success of the project and avoid overspending by the developers, Moore said three houses will be built at a time, and if those are filled, more will be constructed.

Carson said Kings needs a comprehensive redevelopment plan.

“We have a lot of issues,” she said. “It’s a long-term, broad picture. We don’t want to pay $75,000 for a house and have a recycling plant across the street. We’re trying to build a long-term plan for the community.”

Walker proposed monthly meetings to discuss the issue, but some were still unswayed.

“Nobody wants to move up there,” said Vicksburg resident Leroy Hardin. “You’re trying to put all those homes in one small space.”