Land given for first-time homebuyers

TUPELO – More first-time homebuyers in Lee County will be able to get help with their down payments, thanks to the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency.
TRA, an urban renewal organization created by the city, has agreed to donate land at the corner of Tolbert and North Front streets to the Neighborhood Development Corp. for its homebuyers program. The program awards up to $35,000 to help with a down payment.
The property donation was needed, said NDC Executive Director Zell Long, because the organization didn’t own enough lots for the seven grants it was given by the Mississippi Development Authority.
Long said the MDA gave the group $270,469 for down payment assistance for low-income, first-time homebuyers. The money must go toward an existing or newly constructed house on land owned by the NDC, according to Steve Hardin, director of MDA’s community services division.
Before TRA’s donation, the development corporation owned three lots.
Because NDC didn’t own seven lots, MDA took away the money until the Tupelo group could prove it owned the land.
The donated land originally was part of Tupelo’s Barnes Street urban renewal project about 20 years ago. TRA inherited it as the city’s new urban renewal group.
TRA Chairman John Oxford supported the donation, saying the property is outside the agency’s main focus of Fairpark and TRA doesn’t have any purpose for the land.
“I think what they can do with it is much better than anything we can do with it,” Oxford said.
TRA estimates the land can be divided into seven or eight lots. NDC will retain ownership of the land as part of a community land trust program. Long said the program will help reduce the mortgage amount because the land cost won’t be included.
While the donation will help new homebuyers, NDC also wants to use the houses to improve Park Hill, which has been designated by the city as a target for neighborhood revitalization, Long said.
TRA board member Tim Prewitt took it a step further at the agency’s board meeting last week.
He proposed that NDC select about five architecturally appropriate house designs that would be made available to the homebuyers. He recommended the Craftsman-style that is prevalent in the Park Hill area.
“This is almost like a billboard to this area and this could be a turning point,” Prewitt said. “Even though it’s not really a TRA part of town, this area is just as important. It might be even more important.”
Long also said she would like to see the homebuyers work with the city’s green building initiative and construct eco-friendly homes.
No formal contract was drawn up to govern the design, but Long made a gentleman’s agreement with TRA to make sure the city will work with the grant recipients to “find a plan that fits in with the character of the neighborhood.”

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal