As Lafayette County grows, affordable housing is a top concern

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, August 18, 2016

As Lafayette County continues to grow faster than any other in Mississippi, officials are taking action to accommodate the projected population increase over the next two decades.

The population of the county has increased nearly 12 percent, or about 109 people per month, over the last four years.

Ole Miss’ enrollment continues to increase with the 2015 class boasting 4.2 percent more students than 2014.

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On Tuesday, one of the committees responsible for updating the 2008 county comprehensive plan met once more to discuss their findings and seek solutions to their goals and objectives after listening to public comments during four recent community forums.

County Supervisor Kevin Frye, who is spearheading the committee, broke down the top issues that were mentioned in the public forums, including jobs and economic development, housing, parks and recreation, infrastructure and public safety.

Housing tops the list

Affordable housing, or the lack thereof, once again dominated most of the meeting with ideas for a solution ranging from incentives for developers to creating workforce housing and industries transporting employees to the job site.

More job training in public schools was also a hot topic to improve a dwindling workforce in the county.

More than 60 percent of employees at Winchester live outside of Lafayette County.

Committee members acknowledged that there is a segment of the county workforce that cannot afford to live in Lafayette County and are underserved when it comes to affordable housing. Many of those individuals work in the service industry, from law enforcement to teachers and support staff at the University of Mississippi, not just those in the fast food or retail industry.

“Those $175,000 to $200,000 homes don’t exist,” Frye said.

Mike Slaughter, who has been hired by the county to update the comprehensive plan, said two things must exist for affordable housing to be available.

“You must have density and sewer,” Slaughter said.

Rising land costs have prevented such affordable housing from being developed.

Most new development is not geared towards first-time homebuyers, but rather towards the upper echelon of the economy.

“It’s all about supply and demand,” supervisor Jeff Busby said.

In addition, many of those young people want affordable housing within a mile or two of Oxford’s centralized Square and “that’s just not going to happen,” Busby said.

Ideally, affordable housing would be outside the city limits where land is cheaper, perhaps in areas such as Tula or Harmontown.

The problem is there’s a lack of retail to provide basic necessities for food or other amenities.

One more forum to allow public input on the comprehensive plan will be held Aug. 25 in Harmontown. After that, Slaughter said his team will be assimilating a solid draft plan.

“We hope to have it by October, maybe September, but hopefully no later than October,” Slaughter said.

He recommends the draft plan got to the two committees for “more input and review” before being presented to the Board of Supervisors.