The Melton administration's conflicting opinions of proposed Jackson subdivision development projects have some South Jackson residents in a fury.
The four proposed developments include a 40-home neighborhood on TV Road, 155 homes on Raymond Road, across from the Will-O-Wood subdivision, another 170 homes on Raymond Road west of McDowell Road and 95 homes on Forest Hill Road. Neighbors are nervous about the new homes because developers are offering a 15-year lease, with an option to buy at the end.
"This is basically renting. I can't see it any other way," said James Gowen, a South Jackson resident living near the McDowell Road and Raymond Road intersection. "Anybody moving in doesn't have to make any kind of commitment. They can trash it all they want, and we're concerned, because this could drive down South Jackson property values."
Jackson Mayor Frank Melton attended a March 31 neighborhood rally at Forest Hill United Methodist Church, trying to ease concerns about the development.
"I feel very strongly, very strongly, that you have a right to decide how your neighborhood is going to be. They ask me all the time what the plans are for the neighborhood, and I have to tell you, the planners are sitting in here tonight," Melton said.
The mayor expressed sympathy toward residents' concerns, assuring them they would have strong input into the final approval of the development, but he occasionally revealed arguments in favor of the development.
"We need to have growth in South Jackson," Melton argued, then launched into a string of promises involving building theaters in Jackson and the revitalization of the Apple Ridge Plaza, in South Jackson. Melton also said the development would be "an opportunity for economic development."
"We have abandoned houses in South Jackson, and we're going to deal with that, but this (project) may be an opportunity for economic development, and I want you to understand that we have a biotech center that's coming here that's going to employ over 400 people and will probably come to Hinds County. Most of those people will be attracted to the South Jackson area, and we have to make sure that we have some place for them to live. The other thing is that we have Katrina people. Nobody has spent more time with them than I have, and I want you to know that they're decent people," Melton said, before sliding into a monologue on how nice hurricane refugees are.
The mayor often gave tangential or unrelated answers to questions. One question about what the city would do to address the increased traffic congestion from the new development led to a monologue on how the city combats flooding.
"Yes sir, we have an infrastructure problem out here ... I think we're going to correct that with the Two Lakes project by having a place to drain the water. But I've been out to South Jackson twice now after heavy rains, and I'm very concerned that the same houses keep getting flooded out because they're located on low-plain areas. We need to clean our drainage systems, and I'm going to use prisoners to do that, so we don't have to use taxpayer money. Some prisoners can work their time off by cleaning in the community and the demolition of these houses," Melton told the audience, and then discussed the virtues of hiring ex-cons.
South Jackson resident Betty Rhines said Melton did not have a good understanding of the problem.
"He doesn't know enough of the situation," Rhines said.
Still, Melton said he sympathized with the residents and respected their concerns.
"If you're living next door to an abandoned dope house, your property is worth nothing, and I understand that. We've done a lot of demolition. I've run out of budget money to do (any more demolitions), so I'm going to get some from the Legislature to do some more right now, to make sure that we get the things done that we need to get done. ... But talk to (Department of Planning and Development head) Jimmy Heidel, so you can make a determination based on facts, not on politics and rhetoric."
The Legislature ended its regular sessions without allocating any new money to the city's demolition budget.
Heidel, when contacted by the Jackson Free Press, said he supported the development, which uses tax credits normally reserved for apartment housing to build cheap, passing savings on to occupants.
"When you first got out of school, did you have a down payment for a house? That's the point here. This gives young couples and working families an opportunity to get into a house that's pretty substantial," Heidel said.
Heidel added that protesting South Jackson residents may have exhausted all their legal options in regard to city policy.
Developer Carolyn Proctor of J.L. Construction, which has applied for tax credits to develop the site, said she did not have time to speak to the Jackson Free Press.
David Kelly, who represents Chartre Consulting in their bid to build Timber Falls subdivision on Raymond Road, said his company would not allow decline in property values. Kelly said Chartre Consulting would put prospective residents through exhaustive background checks and perform routine maintenance and repairs on the properties.
"We have to pay for the upkeep, keep the grass cut, keep it in repair. If somebody does not live up to the regulations, they will be ushered out. If somebody moves out, we have to repair it constantly. If there's a cracked switch plate, we pay a fine. And we're scrutinized all the time," Kelly said, adding that Chartre would also be widening a section of Raymond Road and paying for a traffic light at the Will-O-Wood intersection.
Even with the maintenance promised by developers, Brandon Mayor Carlo Martella said he doesn't support the development.
"I don't know how the board would feel about it, but we have enough development going on here that we don't have to resort to that. It doesn't sound like something we would want to do in the city of Brandon right now. I would try to stay away from tax credits and stuff like that on a house. Now, for a business, it might be different, but not on housing. What you're talking about sounds more like apartments to me," Martella said.
The City Council voted 7-0 on a an April 4 resolution urging Mississippi Home Corporation, which allocates the tax credit money to developers, to focus more on rehabilitating existing property instead of building new property, but the resolution carries no real power. Developers are already breaking ground this year.
"You could say that we lost this round this year, but we'll be working to stop 450 of these extended lease homes from becoming 2,200 homes," Council President Marshand Crisler said.
I enjoyed the article. Very informative.
I don't, however, see the significance of asking the mayor of Brandon if he supports this development. I thought that was a bit out of place.
It is also worth noting that the City Council is having another meeting Thursday on this issue. I am not sure that I agree that the City has lost round #1. What does the allocation of tax credits have to do with the City's ability to zone, allow, or prohibit certain dwellings?
- Niles Hooper
I spoke with my uncle who lives in south Jackson and is very concerned about these developments lowering his property values and investments. I also watched the City Council meeting from Tuesday where this issue was discussed, and the more I hear about this development the less I like it. I know that Jackson needs affordable middle income and low income housing, but this is not the way to do it. We have so many dilapidated and crumbling houses and rental properties that should be addressed in west and northwest Jackson that none of these developers should even have to look in south Jackson. So what is their motivation? Why hasn't there been a push to use these funds to rehab and demolish existing housing? Is this a failure on the part of the Federal Government to respect the rights of cities like Jackson to direct how these developments should be implemented? What am I missing?
- Jeff Lucas
This is a clever way that the same developers who have been using the system to create all of the new "income-limited" apartments in Hinds County the last several years are getting around the moratorium on apartments by the City Council. And I fear that it may work.
- Jeff Lucas
I couldn't agree more ejeff1970. I would be be willing to bet that less than 20 percent of the people that rent these houses will buy them after FIFTEEN YEARS! I agree with the city council that we should be looking at what we already have here.
These homes would provide a place for families that may not be able to purchase a home otherwise, but on the other hand has there been any study on the effect of the current values of the properties in south Jackson?
Once again Melton and Heidel have made plans with reckless disregard to the residents of the cit of Jackson. Let's put Frank and Jimmy in a couple of these houses as a good show of faith that this is a good idea. Let's make sure that they sign a fifteen year lease agreement.
No one is in dispute that everyone deserves a nice place to live. The issue is do we have a voice in how this is accomplished.
The issue is do we have a voice in how this is accomplished.
I vocie my issues with the renters behind me...
[Cut by admin -- please keep comments in this thread general. The specific accusations in this post about an identifiable home are inappropriate for the forum. Thanks!]
I don't think there is a 15 year lease agreement SuperStar, I think the idea is supposed to be that the renters get the properties at a "reduced" rate if they stay 15 years, which is very unlikely I think.
There is quite a bit on the internet about the LIHTC program in general. The city council meeting had several speakers that emphasised the "rehabilitation" aspect of this program. The point is that the bulk of the new development is not rehab, its new construction. I don't think a fifteen year lease of any kind woudl be very enforceable anyway and the turnip rule would take over.
At any rate, I don't understand why everyone is conceding that this is a "done deal." Y can't the city simply place a moratorium on rent-to-own just as they did on apartments? Councilman Allen suggested as much, anyone know what the problem with that is?
- Niles Hooper