Of course housing and Realtors go together, so it’s fitting this group of professionals joined forces to provide affordable housing along the hurricane-stricken Mississippi Gulf Coast. In the hours before Katrina hit the area, the Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) began planning how they would help.
The groups partnered with the Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi (LESM) to repair rental property, bringing it back to the market and requiring renters to rent at their pre-Katrina rates for at least one year following repairs.
The cause was given another shot in the arm last week, thanks to a $500,000 donation from the two real estate groups. This brings the total to more than $3.5 million in direct relief and rebuilding assistance in the past two years.
Ridgeland commercial Realtor Russell Wilcox chairs the hurricane relief fund for MAR and became actively involved with rebuilding immediately following Katrina.
First to help
“Our program, developed with the help of NAR and LESM, was the first to help rental property owners,” Wilcox says. “Now the governor has started a similar effort. Our program has been very successful.”
He says the Realtor organizations felt a responsibility to help not only their Gulf Coast members, but others, too.
“It just made sense that this is where we can help, and we’ve been pleased with the way the money has been spent,” he says. “Part of our goal was to get it out as quickly as possible with as little amount of red tape as possible. For the most part, there has been very little red tape.”
Wilcox points out that there is still a shortage of available rental property and that rents have gone up for many that are habitable.
The program, which is the second phase of MAR’s hurricane assistance, has worked well, says CEO Angela Cain. The first phase was giving funds directly to families to help immediately following the storm.
‘Accomplishing a lot’
“We recognized that faith-based groups were accomplishing a lot and wanted to work with them for the second phase of our relief efforts,” she says. “We created the program for rental repairs because people could not repair their properties.”
Property owners match donated funds and LESM provides the labor. Cain says MAR leaders thought the parameters of the program might limit participation, but rental property owners have embraced it.
“It was the right thing to do at the right time,” she says. “We have a waiting list for the program, and this latest contribution will allow us to continue to repair properties and get more housing on the market. We put in a request to NAR for more funds to keep it going. Through the generous donations of NAR members across the country, we are able to do that.”
Michael Huseth, executive director of LESM, says this latest contribution will allow his organization to expand its rental property repair program and help to address the critical housing needs on the Coast.
“Most importantly, it will help us move families back into affordable housing and restore hope and normalcy for people who have lost so much,” he says. “LESM is profoundly grateful for this investment from Realtors around the country who contributed to the NAR relief fund to make this program possible.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.