January 6, 2020

Mississippi CDFI Uses Data and Expertise to Address Cycles of Poverty

Two local children show home they designed

Pictured: Two local children show home they designed

For many in the Mississippi Delta, homeownership is unattainable. Even with average home values at only $105,700, 44 percent of Mississippi renters are housing cost-burdened (spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing) and 14% of  Mississippians overall are severely housing cost-burdened (spending more than 50 perdcent of their income on housing). Mississippi has four regions that are considered metro areas – with populations over 50,000 – covering 21 percent of the state. The remaining 79 percent of counties are considered rural. More than half of Mississippi’s counties – and almost all of the Delta/rural counties – have experienced more than 20 percent poverty for more than three decades. They face significant financial challenges, which often preclude them from obtaining quality housing and/or qualifying for a mortgage.

Hope Enterprise Corporation (HOPE), a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), is mobilizing financing and related technical assistance to address the range of challenges that people and places with low economic-mobility face in Mississippi. Using data, expertise, and relationships, they are elevating the needs and challenges related to affordable housing in rural areas through a recently released resource kit: Rural Housing Context and Potential. This document will serve as a foundation for creating a strategy for building strong communities beginning with healthy homes.

HOPE contracted with the Delta Design Build Workshop (Delta DB) using Section 4 grant funding to lead the development of this multi-disciplinary affordable housing research effort, focusing on the construction of new in-fill housing and rural communities like the small towns of the Mississippi Delta. Over the course of 12 months, the team developed this resource kit through engagement with the various groups who have a stake in housing, national scale and site-specific research, implementation and evaluation of design precedents, and lessons learned from the ongoing construction of new, affordable homes in the area.

“Well-designed, healthy, affordable, quality homes can help individuals and families climb out of poverty. They can also help transform a community suffering from blight, outward migration and economic stagnation”, says Michelle Stadelman, Enterprise Rose Fellow with HOPE and Delta DB. 

Stadelman’s role as an Enterprise Rose Fellow is unique. She is co-hosted by HOPE, a financial institution, and Delta DB, a design build firm. The two groups had been working in partnership for a few years when they chose, in 2017, to jointly seek a Fellow based on the lack of access to safe, healthy housing in the Mississippi Delta. With the addition of Stadelman to the partnership, the projects that the organizations jointly take on can span the range of challenges communities face, and responses are crafted with the various perspectives of the professionals involved. Similarly, Rural Housing Context and Potential was planned to develop linearly, beginning with market research and culminating in a design proposal. Instead, the resource kit evolved, and now includes resources relevant to small municipalities, community development organizations, builders and home occupants.    

“We did not want our response and translation of the research to be a white paper that sits on the shelf. We want it to be a useful resource for different stakeholders and different professions tied into housing,” says Stadelman.  

Pictured: Emily Roush-Elliot, social impact architect from Delta Design Build showcases a home design

Strengthening Collaborations

Seeing the need for a strategic plan to help address challenges faced in seven communities in the Mississippi Delta, HOPE initiated the Small Towns Partnership program, now HOPE Community Partnership, where they spearheaded extensive community-led planning to identify the needs of those communities. This partnership resulted in the development of a unique strategic plan that each of these towns adopted. 

“In Mississippi’s rural towns, as well as throughout the U.S., resources and capacity are extremely limited. For example, without that strategic plan, these municipalities wouldn't qualify to even be able to submit an application, so the strategic plan and the work that HOPE is doing with the local leadership is really about looking toward the future and how can those leaders better serve the community,” says Michelle.

HOPE and Delta Design Build Workshop began working in partnership in 2016. Since then, their combined efforts have included bringing some of that expertise in terms of capacity building to small towns in the form of planning, home design, construction, and grant writing. From this collaboration and The HOPE Community Partnership, the acute need for affordable housing and the negative impacts of numerous blighted properties became clear in each of the small towns. Today, the groups are accessing funding to remove some of those blighted properties. Looking to the future, the team plans to use the resource kit to guide the development of well-designed affordable homes in those previously blighted lots. 

“’How do we address housing for the Delta?’ is something that's a different question than ‘How do we address housing for the border in Texas?’ or ‘How do we address housing on sovereign lands with tribal leadership?’. And so, this was an attempt, in working specifically with towns like Drew and Moorhead, to look at what are some answers that apply at this scale, and within the constraints that Mississippi that these communities have,” says Michelle.

Though rural America is often referred to as if it were homogenous, rural communities contend with different issues in different locations, even within the Delta. Though some of the information in the Rural Housing Context and Potential are specific to the Delta, other strategies can be applied more broadly outside the state of Mississippi and even the Deep South.

“When it comes to community economic development, CDFIs like HOPE bring a unique expertise to the table. We're able to braid resources, connecting communities with financial products and services, along with identifying potential pools of funding – both public and private. In addition, we recognize the value of partnerships, and how leveraging various areas of expertise was a necessity to address all the needs in this neighborhood in Moorhead, Mississippi”, says Mary Bruce Alford, vice president of investor relations at HOPE.
  
HOPE is in their 25th year as a CDFI, and affordable housing is one of the biggest lines of business that they have. Much of their work began when they were focusing on revitalizing areas along the coast that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. As a result, they developed a lot of expertise during that time on revitalizing housing and working with individuals to provide financial products and services. Because they had experience in revitalizing communities after the hurricane, they used that experience to evolve over time, allowing them to be able to work in communities like Drew and Moorhead.

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