Biloxi set post-Katrina records in 2009

Biloxi saw nearly 4,000 lots cleared of code issues last year, more than the number cleared in 2007 and 2008 combined, and permits for new homes jumped to 271 last year, almost triple the number issued in each year since the storm, thanks to a new development in Woolmarket.

“We’re just doing our jobs, to be honest,” said Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel. “It’s like I’ve always said, there’s a lot going on in Biloxi, whether it’s new home construction, new businesses opening, or property owners taking action to clear up their property. The difference in Biloxi is that it’s not all in one concentrated place, which means you see growth in different pockets throughout the city.”

The impressive numbers on code enforcement and housing are included in a series of economic and community indicators that will be included in the forthcoming “State of the City” report, an annual follow-up to Mayor A.J. Holloway’s annual State of the City address. The 16-page report, due out in April, will update an array of city recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Creel attributed the jump in single family homes to the Timber Creek Estates development, a 209-home project that is being constructed on 100 acres off Woolmarket Road.

Cleaning up Biloxi, lot by lot by lot

The code enforcement cases, where in many cases property owners were prompted by the city to remove derelict in-ground or elevated foundations, also involved a number of high profile locations along the front beach, such as the site of the storm-destroyed St. Charles condominiums on west beach, and the former sites of apartment complexes, restaurants and nightclubs.

“We were able to accomplish a great deal on code enforcement because we had four code enforcement officers funded through a grant from the Mississippi Development Authority,” Creel said. “We responded to complaints from citizens, and when it was a verified code violation, we took action. But there were also a number of cases where the property owners went in and cleaned up their property without the city having to take formal action. We are very appreciative of those efforts. We thank those property owners for taking proper action.”

Huge jumps in housing, thanks to Woolmarket

Meantime, on the housing front, the city has averaged about 134 new homes a year since Katrina, until last year, when it rose to 271 homes.

Creel admitted that elevation and insurance issues continue to challenge new home construction on the Biloxi peninsula, but affordable housing initiatives are taking shape north of the Bay, particularly in Woolmarket, with easy access to I-10 or Highway 67.

“To be honest, it’s not easy to find a 100-acre parcel zoned for single family homes where you could build 200 homes and be able to mitigate the wetlands and do everything that you need to do,” said developer Cliff Bates, whose firm is developing Timber Creek Estates off Old Woolmarket Road. “That’s what we found with this site, and yes it’s quietly happening, but it’s also starting to catch fire.”

Timber Creek Estates: Huge progress in a relatively short time

Timber Creek actually began land clearing in January 2009 and completed clearing in April. Today, developers have certificates of occupancy for nearly 160 homes.

“Right now,” Bates said, “we’re 30 to 60 days from being done, and when you consider the amount of rain we’ve had, that’s pretty phenomenal, to build out a 100-acre site with 200 homes on it.”

And, Bates said, the Timber Creek subdivision will have the appearance of a well-planned subdivision, with the benefits of affordability.

“They’re not cookie-cutter homes,” he declared. “We came up with several different designs, and it has the feel of an actual subdivision where each house is being individually built and sold.”

The 1,700 to 1,800-square-foot, three- and four-bedroom homes range from $615 to $690 a month, and Park Development has on-site management, maintenance and landscaping.

Said Bates: “The way the program works is that you lease the home for 15 years and after 15 years, in consideration of the rent paid, you can buy that home for an extremely discounted price because you’ve built up equity over the years. We’re transitioning people from renting to home owning.”

Meantime, more success down the road

The Timber Creek development, incidentally, is down the road from two other popular Woolmarket apartment developments — the 224-unit Gates of Biloxi and the 60-unit Bellemont Gardens — that have tax-credit developers smiling.

“We opened the Gates in December 2009, and we’re probably 70 percent occupied,” said developer David Strange, who said the development is the most successful of the 60 projects that Jackson-based New Horizons Development has constructed in the Southeast.

“I think there are two reasons,” Strange said. “There was still a situation where you had a lack of general housing and rooftops after the storm, and we’re beginning to arrive at the level that we need to be. So there was the demand. And people were still paying a thousand dollars a month for a three bedroom apartment. But because of their income, they qualified to live in ours, and their rent is $600 a month. That family can then take that $400 savings and buy groceries and other necessities and in turn support local businesses.

“This is the first significant tax credit development that has been put on the ground in Biloxi since the storm.”

By the numbers

Here are some of the figures from the forthcoming State of the City report:

Single family home permits

2005 — 119

2006 — 174

2007 — 136

2008 — 107

2009 — 271

Code enforcement violations cleared:

2005 — 1,093

2006 — 936

2007 — 1,847

2008 — 2,195

2009 — 3,928

Online photos

To see aerial photos of Timber Creek Estates and ground-level photos of the Gates of Biloxi, click here.