Butterfly Cauldron

Friday, October 06, 2006

We don't want those people in our neighborhood -- again

Ah, the aftermath of Katrina in Mississippi. The state is recovering faster than New Orleans is (and good for them, there's no resentment about that on this end) and people are rebuilding. This is a Very Good Thing. Habitat for Humanity is building lots of houses for lower-income people. (And I adore that organization. I keep trying to get hired by them, but no luck so far.) Things are going well, until local residents find out what's planned.

WAVELAND, Miss. (AP) — Toni Thomas, a 24-year-old single mom of two, pulled her nose out of a science book Wednesday and smiled.
For a few minutes she wasn’t thinking about her night-class homework or her rigorous routine that begins each morning at sunrise. She wasn’t thinking about her job or her finances. Instead, she dreamed of returning to her Middle Town neighborhood to be near her mother, aunts and cousins.
Thomas’ grin grew when she thought about watching Larry, her 2-year-old with dimples, and her daughter, Shadara, play in a new house she owns.
But the chance of that dream becoming reality in Waveland seems to be getting slimmer by the minute.
Thomas qualified for an interest-free home loan through Habitat for Humanity, the Christian-based nonprofit group made popular by former President Carter, which is building “thousands and thousands” of homes along the storm-pummeled Gulf Coast, from Texas to Alabama.
Nearly 200 Waveland families applied for a home through the Hancock County chapter of Habitat. So far, 70 are planned.
Those plans hit a brick wall when some residents and city leaders said Habitat should not be given special permits to build homes on lots smaller than city code allows.
Wendy McDonald, who leads the Hancock chapter of Habitat, told a disgruntled crowd at a Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday that larger lots are more expensive and drive mortgage payments out of reach for most Habitat homeowners. Many who qualify are senior citizens and single moms who would find it hard to care for a large lot.
Some of the most vocal critics of Habitat’s plan to build on smaller lots in the predominantly black neighborhood of Middle Town were residents from far different areas of the city.
After McDonald said hundreds of pre-storm Waveland families are unable to return home because of the soaring cost of real estate, Judy Roth, who lives near the beachfront, said it’s not a problem current residents should have to deal with.
But Habitat will build homes only for families who were living in Hancock County before Katrina, meaning the 200-plus families wanting a Habitat house consider themselves Waveland residents.
Russell Voorhies, who lives on Beach Boulevard, said he fears allowing smaller lots could start a trend that may spread in the city.
But since March, aldermen have approved several recommendations from city planners allowing special permits similar to the requests they denied from Habitat.
One property owner was allowed to divide his property into eight lots, each 7 feet smaller than the city’s code requires.
In April the city approved a request to allow a homeowner to divide one lot into two, one of which did not meet the city’s square-footage requirement.
A month later the city approved a permit to allow a property owner to build a new home 14 feet closer to the front property line and 17 feet closer to the backyard boundary than code permitted.
Planning Commissioner Kathy Pinn said the community hardly opposed those changes.
The most debated project from Habitat is a plan to build six houses near Herlihy Street on lots that do not meet the city’s 75-foot-wide requirement. Four of the lots are 70 feet wide and two are 62 feet wide.
Pinn said the commission, which sends recommendations to aldermen, supports Habitat and most of the resistance is coming from the community.
One of the Middle Town residents who opposes Habitat’s plan is Mary Leigh Hall, 62, who told the commission the Habitat homes would attract drugs and traffic to the neighborhood and the city should focus on other things, “instead of housing.”
Hall is one of the aunts Thomas wants to be closer to. Thomas grew up in Middle Town and she said drugs and traffic would be nothing new.
“There’s always been drugs in that neighborhood,” she said. “That’s not Habitat’s fault.”
Habitat has threatened to leave Waveland if the climate doesn’t change. Thomas said she already has been asked if she would consider living in a Habitat home in Bay St. Louis.
“The city of Waveland should step up and do something, because there’s a bunch of people who just want to come home,” she said.
Instead of deciding on Habitat proposals this week, aldermen scheduled a meeting for Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. between Habitat and Middle Town residents to discuss the plans.


So. The cost of property is rising, lots of families who lived in Waveland cannot afford to buy said property, so Habitat steps in to help them out. And then their fricking neighbors protest? "It's not my problem"? What? These aren't strangers. These are people who lived in Waveland and were displaced by Katrina. They want to come home, dammit, and they have ever right to. They're also willing to work, hard, for their own home. I don't know if you've ever been involved with a Habitat Build but those people WORK. If this isn't a huge helping of classism, I don't know what is. Those people aren't good enough to live here anymore. Now that we can get rid of them.

But, you know, people who can afford their land on their own? Well, we'll give them permits with little acceptions. Because they're not poor, see? No poor, not old, not single parents. No, they're our kind of people, see?

Gah. Isn't it bad enough that Katrina destroyed lives left and right? Now those victims have to hurt each other? What the fuck is wrong with the world?

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posted by Zan at 12:25 PM

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