Mayor Brent Warr is asking the Mississippi Development Authority for a "full review" of his file on the homeowners grant he used to repair his beachfront house.
The request was sparked after an Internet posting raised questions about the money Warr received from the state's Homeowner Grant program. He declined to say how much he received.
"I have requested a full review of my file by the appropriate agencies and intend to proactively respond to all legitimate questions concerning my eligibility for this grant," the mayor wrote in a four-page letter to the Sun Herald.
Depending on which message board or blog you read, the mayor is accused of lying about his primary address to get Katrina grant money for his beachfront house.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But Warr maintains the house is his primary home and he followed the rules when applying for his grant.
Warr purchased the beachfront house from the Armed Forces Retirement Home in February 2003. He was elected Gulfport's mayor in 2005.
To qualify for up to $150,000 in state homeowner grants, applicants must prove they owned and lived in their homes prior to Aug. 29, 2005. In addition, applicants must prove the home is their primary residence through land deeds or personal bill statements.
Although the mayor said he spent many nights in the beach home, the Warrs had not yet moved in when Katrina struck, which has caused some to question whether the house could be considered a primary residence.
Warr told the Sun Herald that in 2004 his family moved into a home owned by his parents, rent-free, in the Woodglen subdivision while he tinkered with the beach house, slowly renovating it himself.
Since 2005 his children have been registered in the public school district under the beachfront address, Warr said, adding that all of his bills and personal mail have been sent to his house on the beach since he purchased it.
"It was our home, our primary address, and we were almost completely moved in when the storm hit," Warr said.
Katrina pounded Warr's new house, washing out the bottom floor. Since the storm, the Warrs have remained in the Woodglen house while they rebuild their beach home.
Lee Youngblood, a spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority, which administers the homeowners grant program, could not speak on a specific case, but he said the state has awarded grants to homeowners who were in the process of moving into their homes when Katrina struck.
"If you're asking me if it's possible for someone to qualify for a homeowners grant if they were in the process of moving into their home when the storm hit, the answer is yes, and there are cases like that." Youngblood said. "The program didn't outright disqualify anyone just because they were moving."
According to the MDA, dozens of grants were given to applicants who were in the process of moving into a home when Katrina struck.
When he applied for the homeowner's grant, Warr said, he listed the beach house as the location of the damaged property that would be repaired with the grant money.
"The power bill, the water and sewer bills, everything is in my name," he said. "We applied the same way as everyone else who received a homeowner grant."
The latest Internet rumblings suggest Warr received free building permits from City Hall, saving him hundreds of dollars.
Warr admitted getting building permits from the city without paying a fee, but said, "so did thousands of other" Gulfport homeowners. The city suspended permit fees for more than a year after Katrina to help homeowners rebuild.
However, the moratorium on fees ended March 1, 2007, and Warr received another permit on March 30.
Warr said the permit office typically waived fees for several weeks after the deadline expired for any homeowner who could prove the permit was for Katrina-related construction.
But after weeks of accusations, Larry Jones, director of the Department of Urban Development, said the mayor recently paid $1,020 in fees for the March 30 permit.
Grant totalsHere are the numbers on Phases I and II of the Mississippi homeowners grant program:Applications received --- 28,773.Grants paid --- 18,661.Dollar value of grants paid --- $1.3 billion.--- MISSISSIPPI.ORG