By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Tupelo developers, real estate agents and contractors discussed the current housing situation in the city during a housing summit led by Mayor Jason Shelton.
The gathering served as part of the mayor’s effort to find ways to create affordable housing in the city. During Shelton’s campaign for office earlier this year, he focused on finding ways to attract and retain young, middle-class residents to Tupelo.
Shelton said he considered Thursday’s summit the beginning of a longer conversation to find ways to spur residential development.
“I want to learn from you,” Shelton told the crowd of professionals in the housing sector. “I need you to tell me what needs to be done.”
Responses included everything from bringing more jobs to the region to lowering costs on permits and other expenses related to building houses.
The 2010 Census showed little growth in Tupelo’s population, while northern Lee County suburbs experienced significant increases.
Tommy Morgan, owner of real estate and development companies in Northeast Mississippi, said the main factor for people choosing areas outside Tupelo is price. Fewer regulations and building codes outside of Tupelo lead to houses built for less cost.
“It’s just a cost issue when they can go to the county and get an equal or better product,” Morgan said.
However, not everyone at the City Hall meeting agreed property built outside of the city has the same standards as housing in Tupelo. But, most seemed to agree that housing costs are lower outside of Tupelo.
Rob Harness, who builds mid- to upper-income homes, said he has noticed a drop in demand for housing built in the area, a problem that impacts the construction sector in the area and can impact the local economy.
“One thing we’ve noticed is a diminished demand,” he said. “It’s a challenge these days.”
The housing conversation comes on the heels of the City Council planning a vote on the updated development code, a result of the city’s updated comprehensive plan that set goals of simplifying city codes and ordinances. Pat Falkner, the city’s planner, said builders will have more flexibility when the new code is passed.
Shelton told the group that tweaks to make codes friendlier toward developers can still happen after the council passes it.