Sustainable Senior Housing in Rural Mississippi
The single-story buildings in McIntosh Homes reflect the rural context of Leakesville and Greene County. Image courtesy of South Mississippi Housing Development Corporation. Low-income older adults in rural Greene County, Mississippi have a new option for quality, sustainable living. The 50-unit McIntosh Homes is the first subsidized affordable housing development built in the town of Leakesville in nearly three decades and has been certified as an Enterprise Green Community for its commitment to environmental and economic sustainability. The project is the result of the collaboration among South Mississippi Housing and Development Corporation (SMHD), The Michaels Organization, and local and county officials.
Addressing a Housing Shortage
Although Leakesville and its surroundings were spared much of the property destruction that Hurricane Katrina wrought along the Gulf Coast, Greene County’s population of only 14,400 residents was not immune to the housing shortage that gripped the state in the hurricane’s aftermath. Gulf residents seeking housing in the inland part of the state found few affordable units that were suitable. “[Katrina] really began the conversation about increasing the supply of affordable housing in Greene County,” according to county supervisor Morris Hill.
That conversation ultimately brought county and local officials to SMHD. The nonprofit development arm of the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority VIII, SMHD was formed in 2006 to address the need for affordable housing following Hurricane Katrina. SMHD has replaced storm-damaged housing along the coast and provided new affordable housing in 14 inland rural counties where the need for affordable housing became apparent after the storm. Greene County officials articulated this need to SMHD. As Hill describes it, “We have low-income seniors and older adults in Greene County who live in substandard homes or in homes that they can no longer maintain.”
Sustainable Supportive Housing
Completed in June 2013, McIntosh Homes includes 35 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom apartments available to those aged 50 and over who earn no more than 50 percent of the area median income. The homes are spread across five single-story buildings to match the community’s rural character, and all apartments are accessible in keeping with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards so residents can age in place. Amenities include ceiling fans, air conditioning, washer and dryer connections, and internet access.
Several mature trees were preserved as part of the development. Image courtesy of South Mississippi Housing and Development Corporation. “We wanted to provide housing and create a community. . . We did not want the housing to feel institutionalized,” notes SMHD president Demetria Simpson. A community center provides computer access as well as meeting rooms where residents can participate in educational workshops and other programs. According to Milton Pratt, senior vice president at The Michaels Organization, creating support networks and providing services to residents are key to the project’s viability in the rural market. Along with programming, the management company offers local transportation services for residents who do not have the means to travel independently.
The project, with its Enterprise Green Communities certification, features ENERGY STAR®-certified appliances and foam insulation board, and each unit is equipped with its own heating, ventilation, and air conditioning unit to minimize energy loss. Several mature trees were preserved during construction to maximize shade, and despite being located approximately 60 miles north of the Gulf Coast, the buildings are constructed to withstand high winds, with impact-resistant glass in windows and ties, fasteners, and strapping that connect parts of the building frame together from the foundation to the roof.
Public Support and Strong Market Response
The project demonstrates the important roles that regional housing providers and public-private partnerships play in bringing affordable housing to underserved rural areas. SMHD acquired the Leakesville site and worked with The Michaels Organization to assemble a $9 million financing package for the project that includes $2.8 million in 4-percent low-income housing tax credit equity and a $6.2 million loan from the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority VIII. Michaels then used its construction and management expertise to bring the development to fruition.
Along the way, the project received strong public support. “Oftentimes you will find opposition to [affordable housing]. In [Leakesville] we had 100 percent backing and support. . . The local [and county] officials were just as much on top of us as we were on them [about completing the project],”says Simpson. This support came from local officials who expedited the permitting process and from local residents who responded favorably to the project. And despite some trepidation about the 50-unit project’s viability in the rural county, nearly all of the units at the McIntosh Homes were leased within four months of opening.