Vicksburg first to begin new blight removal program

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Delores Hemphill is returning to the neighborhood.

“I grew up about four blocks from here at the corner of Military and Hannah Avenue,” she said as she looked at the dilapidated homes on Franklin Street that were about to be razed Tuesday to make way for new homes under Vicksburg’s blight elimination program. Hemphill, who moved out of the area and returned, is getting one of the new homes.

“I am so pleased, because I believe in revitalization, I believe in restoring what used to be OK to bring it up to par now, and I don’t mind living here,” she said.

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The home Hemphill is purchasing, like the two other homes, is made possible through a $165,000 Mississippi Home Corp. blight elimination grant to remove dilapidated homes in the city and replace them with new ones.

Under the blight elimination program, the city will remove selected homes with a clear title. The blight partner, a nonprofit corporation, buys the dilapidated property and builds the new home on the site after the old building is removed. The new home is then sold to a new owner.

Vicksburg is the second city in Mississippi to be awarded a blight elimination grant, and the $165,000 is expected take care of 11 properties under the program at $15,000 for each home — enough for the blight partner to buy the property, close on the property, and for the demolition. The partner builds the new home at its own expense.

First in the state

Vicksburg is the first city in the state to implement the grant, city Housing director Gertrude Young said.

“The U.S. Treasury Department gave the state of Mississippi $20 million by way of the Mississippi Home Corp. to do blight elimination, and this is the first step, where we tear down the houses,” she said. “We’re building a new history.”

Scott Spivey, executive director of the Mississippi Home Corp., said Mississippi was designated a hardest hit funds state and received funds to help people feel more secure in their mortgages.

“That was traditionally a mortgage assistance program for people who lost their jobs, but the Treasury Department authorized states to also set aside funds for blight elimination where they would take down blighted properties in order to increase the surrounding property values and make homeowners more secure in their mortgages because their property value goes up,” Spivey said.

He said the Mississippi Home Corp. worked with the University of Mississippi to designate counties and areas around the state where removing blighted homes would increase the property values.

“We are happy to work with the city of Vicksburg to get this show on the road,” Spivey said.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. called the program “a major step into improving the quality of life for our citizens. Today we are the first city to utilize the Blight Elimination Program, and that ought to speak volumes for the state of Mississippi.

“We are now beginning to develop and replace homes in the city of Vicksburg. It’s easy to tear down, but to build up is much harder.”

After a brief ceremony, heavy machinery began taking down the first house.

Hemphill already had her home planned.

“I love being back home,” she said. “This has been fantastic. I’ve already planned to put the rose bushes down and get me a white fence. This is going to be my home, it’s going to be my domicile; It’s going to be where I live.”

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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