Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vicksburg seeks grant to help purchase homes

The City of Vicksburg has applied for $198,000 in grant funding that would provide 18 homebuyers with $11,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance and would require no local match, said Housing and Community Development Block Grant Program Director Beatrice Moore.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Monday to authorize seeking the money through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas. Moore said the application has been prepared and sent off, and it likely will be about 90 days before a decision is received.

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It is the first housing assistance grant the city has sought this year, largely due to a recent temporary freeze in USDA Rural Development funding of its direct program, the board said. Moore said the city has used the direct program extensively in the past because it provides low-interest loans to individuals with very low incomes.  

“We’ve still been doing a lot of work,” said Moore, despite the freeze. “We continue to provide our quarterly homebuyer education classes, at which the most recent one in July had 70 people. And, of course, we’re still in the middle of the flood buyout.”     

Moore said her office is still waiting for a FEMA response about the 16 households that applied for the federal buyout program following the Mississippi River flooding this spring.

The city also has enough money to help about 11 families purchase a home, said Moore. Additionally, she said money is available to those who make $40,000 annually and less through the housing revolving program, which provides up to $23,750 for down payment at a 3 percent interest rate.

The board last fall rejected a request to apply for housing assistance programs that required a local match. Mayor Laurence Leyens said between paying city employees to prepare the grants and the local matches required, the city was spending more on the programs than they were worth.

“It would have been better for us just to write people a check,” he said. “We basically stopped the funding until we figured out what was missing.”

Since then, Leyens said there have been some adjustments made to make the city’s administration of homebuyer assistance programs more efficient. However, he said his goal is still to establish a nongovernmental board to handle such programs.   

“We’re  basically keeping the machine running until we can establish a stand-alone nonprofit organization that can operate the housing programs separate from local government,” Leyens said. “We have one or two developers in the city who are interested in building affordable housing. If we can save the taxpayers some money by allowing private partners to absorb some of the costs of administering these programs, then we should.”

Although the city did not include grant renewals in its budget for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Leyens said the board will make budget amendments to support housing assistance programs if and when they become available — unless they cost the city more than they provide.

City agenda

Meeting Monday, Vicksburg officials: Received a bid for gas meters from Leeds, Ala.-based Marieco Inc. Authorized the appropriation of $35,000 to NRoute Transportation Commission. Authorized the mayor to sign an agreement with TranSystems Corporation for design of Washington Street rail overpass at Clark Street. Discussed three dilapidated buildings and overgrown lots, and authorized Building and Inspections Director Victor Gray-Lewis to proceed to cut, clean and/or demolish properties. Accepted a letter establishing a special assessment and adopted an order and resolution for demolition, cutting and site-clearing, of the following properties: 1600 Marcus St., owned by Cade Bunch; 904 Avenue E, owned by Willie and Jennie Doss; 1404 South St., owned by Everhome Mfg. Company; PPIN 14499, owned by Thelma Fraser c/o Cheryl Fraser; 813 Avenue C, owned by Alice Harris c/o Maxine Wilson; 3577 U.S. 61 South, Lot 17, owned by Mireles Honorio; 1509 N. Fisher St., owned by Bradford A. and Earline Martin; 26 Hicks Hill Lane, owned by Donald and Carolyn McKee; 517 Rosedale St., owned by Joe and Luetter Tenner; and 1610 Sky Farm Ave., owned by Jerry Tolliver. Approved use of a city vehicle by Public Information Officer Barry Graham. Authorized the city clerk to advertise for bids for tree removal, rubbish landfill and 2008 erosion control projects on Bowman Street and in Hillcrest subdivision. In executive session, the board: Approved pay adjustments for one employee in the water treatment department and one in the fire department. Approved a promotion for one employee in the right-of-way department. Accepted resignations from two employees. Approved the hiring of one employee in the police department. The next board meeting is at 10 a.m. Sept. 25 at City Hall Annex at 1415 Walnut St.