BILOXI, Miss. (MCT) This week, thousands of hammers, paintbrushes and shovels will rise in concert to build affordable houses across the Gulf Coast during the 2008 Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project.
An estimated 2,000 volunteers will work in South Mississippi toward building and rehabilitating about 60 houses in Biloxi, Gulfport, Diamondhead and Pascagoula. The teams also will frame nearly 50 houses to be completed by year's end.
Last year, the project focused on housing in Los Angeles. The year before, it was India. Since 1984, the project has traveled the world as part of its mission to house the disadvantaged. Choosing the Mississippi Gulf Coast for its 25th anniversary was no accident.
"Even though it's 30 months after the storm, there is still a significant need for affordable housing along the Coast," said Kent Adcock, director of business development and community relations for the Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter of Habitat. "For the last 25 years, President Carter has chosen one place in the world where he focuses his efforts. The magnitude is overwhelming, not just in terms of the week's impact, but in terms of the post event."
Adcock said the project places about $10 million to $12 million on the issue of affordable housing along the post-Katrina Coast.
About 50 national and local corporate and philanthropic groups are contributing to the effort, including the lead sponsor, the Knight Foundation, along with the NCAA, Habitat for Humanity Romania, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and Delta Airlines.
The list of future homeowners includes the family of Charity Bass in Pascagoula. The high-schooler has asthma, and the Basses are still in a mold-infested home. Then there's Carla Bunch and her four children in Biloxi, who weathered the storm in a home with 22 other people. Future homeowners put several hours of "sweat equity" into their homes, working alongside volunteers to realize their dream of home ownership.
"This will be a fantastic week for the Coast. It will provide an infusion of new energy and a spark," for those who've been here since Katrina, said Donna Alexander, executive director of the United Way of South Mississippi.
FEMA estimates there are still about 7,000 travel trailers in South Mississippi. With several people in many of those, plus those still living with friends and family, officials said there are thousands still looking for a permanent place to call home.
FEMA officials said several weeks ago that, by June 1, most of their housing will be decommissioned due to issues surrounding toxic levels of formaldehyde. The lack of housing hits renters especially hard, as apartment prices have skyrocketed since the storm. Future Habitat homeowner Brenda Bolden in Biloxi knows this well, as she needs four bedrooms for her grandchildren, and is renting something much smaller.
The week begins Sunday night, with a closed ceremony for volunteers at Yankie Stadium, featuring the Mississippi Mass Choir. All week, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter will visit the various sites, helping build. On Thursday, the week will close with a ceremony, and on Friday, house dedications will begin. Adcock said that he has received multiple calls from the community wanting to help, for which he says, "thanks," but the event is full and for security reasons, the building sites will be closed to the public.
Besides Mississippi, work related to the Carter project also will be completed in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.