Written by Anthony Moujaes
Back Bay Mission is finishing up the construction phase of a housing project that helps the Biloxi, Mississippi-based ministry of the United Church of Christ continue its work to assist those without a place to call home. More importantly, it will put a new roof over the heads of two disabled veterans just in time for Christmas.
Everett Lewis, the associate of Back Bay's housing initiative, said the HomePort project should be complete by the end of this week, and is hopeful the city will certify the property's occupancy permit at the same time. Construction on the building with two apartments began in July, and contractors finished the job on Monday, Dec. 10. All that's left is to pick out some interior touches, and choose a pair of residents. Lewis said his first interview with a possible tenant was on Tuesday afternoon.
"We're looking forward to getting in there. It's the first project, as small as it is, that is totally dedicated to veterans," Lewis said.
Serving the Gulf Coast through social justice advocacy, Back Bay Mission has owned the property near the mission in Biloxi since the late 1980s, when there was a thrift store on the site. But when Hurricane Katrina came through and destroyed it in 2005, the center was left looking for a purpose for the vacant space.
"It's in a good location here in Biloxi and a prime piece of property," Lewis said. "We could have sold it and gotten a good amount of money for it. But we wanted to benefit the community."
So Back Bay decided to look at opportunities for affordable housing for veterans, given that there are U.S. Air Force and Naval bases in the area. Recently, Back Bay has focused on caring for homeless people, and has six major programs in the area to support them. While this project combines two missions, Back Bay also offers veterans emergency assistance, a day center, permanent supportive housing, housing rehabilitation, and community empowerment and advocacy. The Mission also provides volunteer experiences for groups and individuals.
"We have a long reputation of dealing with those who are less fortunate," Lewis said. "We have that history and we've had it for some time."
To continue that legacy into the future, Back Bay built a one-bedroom duplex that is fully furnished with appliances, and each side will be home to a disabled homeless veteran. That's just Phase One, with future plans to add six more units in a two-story building bringing the project to eight units in the same location.
"We've been working on it for a little over two years in terms of getting all the funding together," Lewis said.
The first phase at $175,000 is financed through two grant sources. The first comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the other half via local administrators at the Harrison County Consortium. The consortium is financial allocation of HUD money from Harrison County, the City of Biloxi and the City of Gulfport, La., for residential development.
As it stands, Lewis thinks HomePort will come in under budget. "We're looking at things that might allow us to spend a little more, but by the end we'll be under by about $7,000," Lewis said.
Back Bay Mission was founded in 1922 to provide a Sunday School experience for children of poor families along Biloxi's Back Bay, and it quickly grew to become a social institution in southern Mississippi. The mission organized the city's first soup kitchen, founded the state's first domestic violence center, and established health clinics and ministries focused on HIV/AIDS.