First-time homebuyers may profit by action|[11/09/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 9, 2007

Before the year ends, Warren County may have a better-designed system for seeking state and federal grants of all types and a more direct role in assisting first-time homebuyers.

“There’s tons of human-service grants out there,” District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon told his colleagues, who met informally Thursday.

In the past, the county has made applications for grants though staff work or by hiring consultants. If the county moves forward with its own affordable housing program or one in combination with the City of Vicksburg, that may be accompanied by a fixed method of seeking money.

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Supervisors will decide between two proposals by their Nov. 19 meeting for grant-writing services to hunt for grants of all kinds, with the issue being terms of compensation. With the nature of the job not specifically tied to any one area of grants, the board remained cautiously supportive of the idea.

“We need to make it worth their while, but we’re not going to pay someone to sit in front of a computer,” Board President Richard George said Thursday.

Up to now, the county’s dealings with grants outside law enforcement-related funds already handled by the Sheriff’s Department was primarily with community development block grants. Those continue to come with built-in counsel and assistance from local firm Jimmy G. Gouras Urban Planning Consultants.

In the background of the talks looms the city’s impending dismissal or reassignment of its employees who work with low-income homebuyers to find state and federal assistance.

Twice, supervisors have applied to participate in the Home Investment Partnership Program, or HOME program, run by the Mississippi Development Authority. The program assists home buyers through deferred loans of about $20,000, which, under the HOME program would be forgiven over a 10-year period at a rate of 1/10 percent per year. The funds are available to those whose total gross family income is 80 percent or below the median household income for a particular area.

Warren and other interested counties have been eligible for up to $250,000 in grants for the program out of more than $3 million available from the state. Homes for which grant funds assist with down payments must also meet zoning and building code standards, which do not exist outside the city.

Though no award has come the county’s way through either application, and supervisors are against the creation of a county planning department, the board may seek more input.

“We can’t open up and take care of everybody. But for people who can help themselves, I’d hate to see people lose the opportunity,” George said.

Supervisors agreed more input should be sought on homebuying-specific grants, specifically from Beatrice Moore, director of the city’s housing program.

“You won’t find a more dedicated person than Bea Moore,” County Administrator John Smith said.

City personnel were informed in October of likely changes in the Vicksburg Planning Department, moves favored by Mayor Laurence Leyens due to the overhead and to test the county’s interest in becoming more involved in homebuyer assistance.