Bay-Waveland Housing Authority defends building plans after hearing

The Bay-Waveland Housing Authority defended its rebuilding plans Thursday after being bombarded by critics at a public hearing earlier this week.

Housing Authority Director Karen Ladner said Thursday she felt the authority was “ambushed” at Monday’s meeting, which was only supposed to be a public hearing on the Villages of Hancock project.

“This was not intended to be a decision-making meeting,” Ladner said.

Michael Bowen of Centerpoint Development–the authority’s developer for the rebuilding plan–said he understood that the issues raised were passionate ones.

Bowen said several of the charges leveled against the housing authority Monday were off-base.

He said claims that there is already too much low-income housing in Hancock County are misleading.

He said the housing authority serves a different clientele than other commercial apartment complexes in the area.

“We only serve the very low-income residents,” Bowen said. “Often these people cannot afford the other types of housing. Public housing is here to fulfill that need.”

Ladner said there is a strong need for public housing and she pointed to the hundreds of requests for Section 8 assistance and the current waiting list as proof.

“Karen’s office has been bombarded with requests,” Bowen said. “People are doing the best they can, but affordable is much different than ‘public’ housing.”

Ladner said there are dozens of residents who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina who have been waiting to return home when the public housing becomes available.

The housing authority is rebuilding at four of its six pre-storm locations.

It is planning to build about 180 total units. Prior to the storm, there were 176, Ladner said.

The reconstruction process came under fire Monday, when local builders and community leaders questioned the costs of the project and why there were no public bids on the project.

Bowen explained that since the rebuilding efforts were “mixed-finance developments,” different rules applied when choosing a developer and contractor.

Once the developer, Centerpoint, was chosen the Department of Housing Urban Development’s procurement requirements were satisfied, Bowen said.

The authority then invited four contractors to bid on the project. The contractors were chosen from a list complied by the Mississippi Development Authority to bid on the project, Bowen said.

Yates Construction was the low-bidder, Ladner said.

Ladner said since it has always been a three-part rebuilding plan, Yates and Centerpoint have been kept throughout the process.

Bowen said although the contractor has remained the same, Yates has not been allowed to name its price.

He said the developer has done a cost-anaylsis study with each project and the construction costs must be ‘within’ reason of the study.

All of the projects and costs have been approved by HUD and the state, Ladner said.

The third project, the Villages of Hancock, will have a cost analysis done and chances are that the project costs will be lower that previous prices because of the downturn in the economy, Bowen said.

Ladner said she is hopeful all of the projects will be completed by the end of the year.

The Villages of Hancock will replace 40 housing units on Camille Circle in Waveland and 18 more on Ballentine Street in the Bay.

The Housing Authority has already begun development on the Oak Haven development on Russell Drive in Waveland, which will provide 80 units designated for the elderly.

Later this month, the authority plans to break ground on the Bay Pines development on Old Spanish Trail in Bay St. Louis, which will replace about 100 low-income housing units lost during Hurricane Katrina.

An application to the Mississippi Development Authority on the Villages of Hancock project must be turned in by April 9, Ladner said. The Oak Haven project is expected to be opened by this fall, Ladner said.

BY: Dwayne Bremer

The Sea Coast Echo

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