Harrison County

Council delays decisions on proposals for East Biloxi housing, second Salvation Army gym

jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

The Biloxi City Council on Tuesday again discussed development proposals on vacant East Biloxi lots, but a decision will have to wait on what the council plans to do — and with whom.

The council tabled a resolution to sell three parcels of city-owned land to Chartre Consulting. It also held off on signing a contract with the Salvation Army, which wants to buy a piece of property south of its Kroc Center.

The board will revisit the matter Aug. 2.

Clarence Chapman of Chartre Consulting pitched the development of 130 rent-to-own homes in East Biloxi, also known as Section 42 housing. The lease on the homes would range from $650 to $850 a month. Homes would be rentals for the first 15 years. After that, renters would be required to pay a mortgage, Chapman said.

“These homes are ideal for casino workers and city workers,” he said.

Council members said they needed more information about the Section 42 housing community. Section 42 refers to the section of the federal tax code that provides tax credits to investors who build affordable housing for people with fixed or lower incomes.

Council members asked Chapman to return with crime statistics of Section 42 neighborhoods and an accounting of how many residents have rented his company’s homes at the 15-year mark.

“We need to have a better idea of how long these folks actually live in these homes,” Councilman Paul Tisdale said.

The board requested Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco, who was also in attendance, to give her thoughts.

“I would simply ask you to consider the need. Do we really need more Section 42 housing?” Rockco said.

Councilman George Lawrence rejected the housing proposal.

“Selling right now is not the answer,” he said of the three parcels. “Let’s finish putting in the infrastructure and then see what happens.”

Lawrence said the city’s eyes should be set on more long-term and “high-end” proposals. After infrastructure projects are completed, the city will have a better shot at better deals.

“Once infrastructure is completed, it’ll explode,” Lawrence said. “After that’s done, then I say let’s move forward. Right now, I don’t think we should sell to anybody. That’s my take on it.”

The board also reconsidered giving the go-ahead to a contract with the Salvation Army for a vacant lot south of the Kroc Center.

Salvation Army Maj. Gary Sturdivant said a gymnasium is planned for the lot that will be free to the public and could serve as warehouse space in November and December for its annual Angel Tree Christmas charity drive.

The Salvation Army will have to establish a better connection with the community if the council approves the purchase, Councilman Felix Gines argued.

Many residents believed the Kroc Center would be free to use when it opened. They were disappointed to learn membership is required, he said.

“We don’t want to be hoodwinked again,” he said. “There’s a lot of sore feelings in the community. It’s a low-income neighborhood. A lot of the folks don’t have the money to put down for a membership.

“People remember that.”

Sturdivant assured Gines and the rest of the board the new gym would be free. City attorney Gerald Blessey said it could be put in the contract if necessary.

The council also heard from Julie Egressy of the nonprofit Mercy Housing and Human Development, who offered her opinion of a rental-housing contract with Chartre.

“I help people get into houses,” she said. “I help them with home ownership, not rentals, and not 15 years later. This rent-to-own proposal being brought to you is not what East Biloxi should go with.”

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