First, see if housing agencies can do the work

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 7, 2010

Housing programs are essential, but there are already more in Vicksburg and Warren County than people can count on their fingers and toes.

Last week, Mayor Paul Winfield told members of the Vicksburg Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi that he wants to form a partnership with a former client of his legal services, the Warren County Board of Supervisors, to create a new entity, a redevelopment authority.

Apparently, this authority would accept federal money to buy and restore dilapidated homes or, perhaps, develop undeveloped land for affordable homes.

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The mayor is absolutely correct that the percentage of home ownership in a community is a sign of its strength and depth. Increasing home ownership also increases the overall quality of life. Those are worthy goals.

Another factor is that the federal government has whims. Sometimes local programs must be structured to fit the latest grant guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Today in this community the largest public housing program is run by the Vicksburg Housing Authority, which in the past has attempted to foster more home ownership opportunities for its tenants, only to have HUD pull the rug out from under those efforts. There also are myriad other programs in which private landlords are paid rent subsidies or potential homeowners receive low-interest loans, cash to make down payments or both.

An inventory of demand might be appropriate before a new agency is formed. It also might be smart to see if the Vicksburg Housing Authority could be the vehicle for redevelopment or whether existing city staff could take on this venture.

The more confusing the housing assistance picture becomes, the more likely it becomes that people who could really benefit will be lost in the shuffle — and the wider the door opens to waste and corruption.

The mayor’s ideas are good but should be explored in the context of what’s already available and what’s been effective. If there’s no need to start with a new agency, that option should be dropped.