Thompson to housing officials: ‘Be innovative’

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Government officials and nonprofit agencies need to be innovative and creative if they want to put first-time homebuyers into a home, Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said.

“There is no 1-2-3 one size fits all,” he told local officials and representatives for nonprofit organizations, developers and housing officials attending the Mississippi Regional Housing Summit Tuesday at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

“Housing, as we know, for those who can afford it, is no problem. If you have money, you can afford it. If you’ve got money, you’ve got housing.

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“Now, if you have children in college, bills to pay, but you still need a roof over your head, there’s some challenges that go with it,” Thompson said. “The question is, are we prepared to deal with those challenges going forward, or are we going to do like everybody else, look for an easy way out or a turnkey situation. Let me tell you, it doesn’t exist. There are a lot of things that go along with putting people in a house for the first time, so you’ve got to use some ingenuity.”

That means, he said, looking for ways to provide developable land and help people with poor credit finance that first home.

“When I look at the majority of communities, in all our communities, we have a lot of vacant land,” Thompson said, adding cities and counties need to have zoning regulations and enforce them.

“We have lots that people have left overgrown in your community, you’ve got to have adequate zoning, because people have got money invested in your community and it looks like pasture. You’ve got to make people cut their grass or tell them ‘we’re going to cut your grass and put it on your tax bill, and if you don’t pay your the taxes within three years, we’re going to sell your property.”

Over time, he said, cities can accumulate vacant property in their communities and design an affordable housing program based on the lots they retained.

When it comes to developing ways to finance homes, Thompson said, “We have to recognize that some of us have to survive to get where we are today,” which means possibly putting off paying some bills to pay for necessities. “These are hard-working people, but they’re just not able to qualify for a mortgage,” he said.

“I know what it means to put a telephone in your child’s name, because it got cutoff in your name,” he said. “We have to create opportunities for people to have the American dream, and the American dream is to one day have a home of your own. What we have to do is understand what housing means to a community.”

And that means seeking grant programs and innovative home financing programs that can work around a person’s bad credit rating and the need for a down payment on a mortgage.

“You’ve got to have a Christmas tree of ideas,” he said.

“You have to decide what’s best for my community, and after you do that, it falls into place.

Thompson, however, cautioned there are a lot of disreputable companies waiting to take over a housing program.

“Being creative doesn’t mean being foolish,” he said. “With whatever process you go forward with, you have to vet it so people can make sure you’re not being tricked. If anybody in this housing market tells you they can do anything, walk out the door. Producing affordable housing in any climate is a challenge. You need to deal with reputable people. People who have a stake in the community.”

He commended the officials for their work, telling them, “You all are doing the Lord’s work, because you are doing for families that other folk aren’t going to care about.

“There’s no greater feeling than to see somebody who’s getting into a home for the first time.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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