GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) State officials are considering a plan to make available about $150 million of hurricane recovery funds diverted for the expansion of the Port of Gulfport for housing and job projects for low- to moderate-income residents.
The port received a total of $570 million for Hurricane Katrina recovery, originally intended to assist those residents.
Officials with the port and the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) now say because the expansion will take six years, a loan fund may be created to make use of some of those recovery dollars in the meantime.
The Sun Herald reported that MDA officials will accept ideas and proposals until 10 a.m. Dec. 9.
“Basically, if we don’t have any qualifying needs out there, or if the needs don’t meet the requirements that the port and MDA think are appropriate, we probably wouldn’t go to an action plan and a program wouldn’t be created,” said Daron Wilson of MDA, which administers Katrina-relief money provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Wilson said proposals must meet Community Development Block Grant guidelines and Katrina-recovery goals.
The economic development projects must result in a work force with 51 percent low- to moderate-income employees. More than 51 percent of housing units built must be for residents who earn 80 percent or less of the area median income.
Wilson said loans will be for 2-1/2 years or less, but can be extended in some circumstances. Wilson said these short-term loan programs generally help with construction until permanent financing can be arranged. MDA must write an action plan for the program, but proposals are being solicited first to determine if the need exists.
Wilson said projects in the three coast counties will receive preference, but projects in other areas damaged by Katrina and strategic to port expansion plans also will be considered.
If a loan fund is established, it will not change the stance of the Mississippi NAACP, the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center and people who contend the $570 million diversion to the port violates fair-housing laws, said Reilly Morse, senior attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice.
The state requested the money go to the port project, and won approval from HUD. Morse said “depending on how [the money] is used, it may offer a good-faith effort toward community involvement with the port.”