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Housing task force considering range of key issues

Tupelo — While the issue of affordable housing in the city limits has been acknowledged as a challenge for a number of years now, Tupelo civic and community leaders are hoping that specific solutions will be crafted — and most importantly, implemented — with the creation of a new comprehensive housing task force.

The 22-member group, which was recently named by Tupelo Mayor Ed Neelly, will be charged not only with examining broad-based housing issues, but identifying and recommending specific strategies that enhance housing opportunities throughout the city. Neelly said that the group will meet in early March and will subsequently set its own schedule for meetings thereafter. By design, the task force consists of representatives from all sectors of the community, with backgrounds including homemakers, principals, architects, bankers, developers, real estate agents and members of the medical community, among others.

“Part of the idea was to have citizens from all walks of life to provide an ongoing outlook on housing issues, including affordable housing,” Neelly said. “We want it to be a group that extends beyond the current administration, much in a way that the Major Thoroughfare program has had an impact throughout the years.”

While affordable housing has been a hot topic in Tupelo, Neelly stressed that the task force’s work will not be limited to affordable housing, which has been generally defined in the community as housing in the $75,000 to $120,000 price range. Community leaders have focused attention on affordable housing as many families in this niche have purchased housing in surrounding cities, such as Saltillo, as well as other unincorporated areas of the county. The implications of a continued or accelerated trend extend not only to tax revenues, but other quality-of-life issues, such as public education, which traditionally has enjoyed strong community-wide support in Tupelo.

Officials have cited a number of factors that have contributed to the affordable housing situation, including what some deem as a lack of developable land in the city, as well as perceived high costs of available land. Some developers contend that the permitting process needs streamlining, and others point to zoning issues as an impediment. Prior to naming the task force, the mayor held a widely-attended housing summit, where input was provided on a number of housing issues, including affordable housing by community residents. Some suggested that stronger housing code enforcement would improve affordable housing options in existing neighborhoods, and that is another issue that will be considered. Neelly said that part of the task force’s responsibility will be assessing priorities and potential solutions in light of the city’s overall housing needs.

Tupelo city planner Pat Falkner, who also serves on the task force, said that he hopes the group will move forward with a clarity of purpose.

“Given the depth and complexity of housing issues in our community, it’s important for the task force to have a clear understanding of what the community wants it to achieve,” said Falkner.

One challenge will be balancing the interests of existing homeowners and improvement/enhancement of existing neighborhoods with the need for new construction.

Tupelo Realtor and developer Tommy Morgan, a task-force appointee, said that members of the group understand how important housing issues are to the community and that he is encouraged by city leaders’ commitment to the process.

“At this point, the task force has not met as a group, so it’s premature to point in any particular direction regarding specific strategies,” Morgan said. “I know that the mayor and others have a sincere desire to get something accomplished and we just have to get everything on the table for discussion and see what’s there.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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