May 28, 2015

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City seeks to boost home ownership

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A proposed service agreement for a Mississippi organization to provide support to the city’s housing program will get a closer look from city officials.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr., North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson agreed that the city should research a partnership with the Mississippi Faith-Based Coalition — a multi-faith coalition of churches that focus on housing education, counseling, drug abuse, crime prevention, job training, health, voter education and economic development.

The board tasked current housing coordinator Leona Stringer, who is slated to retire later this year, with researching the nearly $111,000 agreement.

Flaggs said the rate at which the city is demolishing foreclosed and decrepit houses is exceeding the construction of new ones.

“We know that we need some more housing out there,” he said.

Shae Williams, executive director for the MFBC, said at the informal work-session meeting that the program would go beyond the city’s current housing program to provide one-on-one financial counseling which would encourage home ownership.

“We pride ourselves on doing the right thing and making sure we’re taking care of people in the housing arena,” she said.

Saying that foreclosure can often be avoided and that the MFBC’s goal, among others, is to keep people in their homes if at all possible, Williams said many homeowners are unaware of services offered for their benefit.

“We don’t stop until the client has a viable resolution,” she said. “There’s a lot out there that homeowners don’t know about and our job is to bring that to them.”

Responding to a question from Victor Gray-Lewis city inspection director, about follow-up visits, Williams said her organization becomes a regular outlet for homeowners once they understand how to work with the MFBC.

“At that point, they understand who were are and where to find us because they’ve been through all the steps with Mississippi Faith Based,” she said. “If something changes — whether it’s losing their job, retirement or they go on disability — they know not to be afraid of the lender.”

In response to Mayfield’s questions about programming overlap with the Vicksburg Housing Authority, which oversees subsidized rental housing in the city, Stringer said the one-on-one financial counseling that is not offered by the city’s current services has a substantial impact on its clients’ financial stability.

“You need to talk to people face to face,” she said.

Mayfield proposed that Stringer look at the agreement to see what services the MFBC could provide that would compliment the city’s current programs and resources.

Flaggs agreed with Mayfield, saying the board should look closely at including the MFBC’s request during their budgeting process for FY 2014-15, which begins in October.

“I know the City of Vicksburg is not a social service agency, but we can’t see an underserved community and turn our back on it. I think Michael makes a valid point that — and it is for next year’s budget — we should take a look at it and see how we can massage it to meet our needs.”