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Habitat affiliates to file housing trust fund bill in January

After sitting out the past couple of legislative sessions, Mississippi Habitat for Humanity affiliates plan to file legislation that would establish an Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Forty-five states and more than 600 cities and counties have some version of a housing trust fund whose purpose is to help provide affordable, safe housing for low-income families.

Cindy Griffin, executive director, Habitat for Humanity Metro Jackson, said the legislation is already drafted and will be filed once the session starts in January.

“The way we’ve drafted it, it would help moderate-, low- and very low-income Mississippi families,” she said.

The legislation does not pinpoint any funding sources, leaving it open-ended. Griffin said some sort of public-private funding partnership “would be the ideal solution. It certainly wouldn’t be limited to just public sources. We’d love it if we could earmark a source of funds, but there aren’t any assigned to the legislation. We’re still trying to determine exactly what those could be.”

Adequate seed funding would hover around $5 million, Griffin said, and would offer a foundation for the fund to start fulfilling its purpose.

Ideally, Griffin said, housing trust funds would expand housing opportunities for school children, senior citizens and military veterans returning from overseas posts and conflict. More specifically, Griffin said a trust fund could provide much-needed assistance to organization whose mission is to help those groups.

“The big consideration I think the trust fund could address is helping fledgling organization, or small-capacity organizations, build up some capacity in this area. Such a large portion of our population is in need, and you don’t have very many organizations that have capacity to actually deal with that need, to help broker solutions.

“We’re a very diverse group,” Griffin continued. “Habitats are across the state, but there’s also public housing authorities, the Institute for Disability Studies, it’s a long list of them. And we’d want all sectors of our state to be represented, both urban and rural. It could be a fund that could broadly address housing needs.”

Habitat figures show that one-third of Mississippi homeowners and 53 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes on housing. Twenty-five percent of senior citizens spend the same amount. That often leaves less money than should be available to pay for necessities like groceries, healthcare and child care, Griffin said.

The affects aren’t limited to the homeowners, Griffin said. Employers have trouble attracting and retaining qualified workers when housing markets do not offer enough safe and affordable homes.

Griffin said studies conducted over a period of year and done across the U.S. show when children don’t have a stable and safe place to call home, they struggle in school and suffer poor health.

Housing trust funds can prevent predatory lending and reduce foreclosures, according to a white paper Habitat for Humanity distributes. They can also reduce urban sprawl and grow the property tax pool.

“There is nothing the lack of affordable housing doesn’t hit,” she said. ”No sector is exempt from these negative effects. On the other side, there is nothing an adequate amount of affordable housing does not help. Every sector benefits.”


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