Steps Coalition believes that Affordable Housing, Economic Justice, and Preservation of Historical Communities are inextricably linked to one another and the wellbeing of our families and communities. Consequently, we will be developing and implementing programming for these three operational pillars under one strategic focus area that, from this point forward, we will refer to as “Community Development,” and the foundational programs for this focus area will be anchored in affordable housing development.
What is affordable housing and why is it important? The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines low-income families as those whose income is at “…80 percent of the median family income for the area, subject to adjustments for areas with unusually high or low incomes or housing costs.” Likewise, HUD defines very-low-income as “…50 percent of the median family income for the area, subject to specified adjustments for areas with unusually high or low incomes.” These families are typically led by individuals in low wage/low skill jobs that make it difficult, if not impossible, to securely afford rental housing in their communities. Consequently, affordable housing is most often targeted for these families because they are spending more than 50% of their average monthly income (AMI) on housing costs and are considered “housing or economic insecure” because of the unhealthy tradeoffs they have to make for things like food, healthcare, or energy coast to remain housed, or risk eviction. According to the Enterprise report, this situation applies to one in four renter households in the United States.
The report also notes that an individual earning (2014 dollars) $18.79/hour must work 40 hours to afford the average two-bedroom apartment; but the average renter earns $14.32/hour and must work 52 hours/week to afford the same apartment; and an individual earning minimum wage - $7.25/hour – would need to work 104 hours/week. Clearly, the latter two situations are untenable. Yet they are indicative of the service industry wages that many Gulf Coast residents earn in the gaming/hospitality/tourism industries that are so dominant here, and the negative racial income disparities disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities.
To address this problem on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Steps has decided that in addition to advocating for quality affordable housing, we will become a nonprofit affordable housing developer and we plan to build a minimum of 50 quality, mixed-income, multi-family, rental apartments in the region during the next 3-5 years.
The Steps Coalition (Steps), in collaboration with the NAACP Biloxi Branch (NAACP), the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (GCCDS), and East Biloxi Community Collaborative (EBCC), is working with key community stakeholders to brand East Biloxi as a cultural tourism destination - “The East Biloxi Civil Rights Cultural Corridor” – and we plan to anchor the project by redeveloping several historic buildings on Main Street between Esters Boulevard and Division Street into mixed-income, mixed-used, multi-family housing and small to medium sized commercial enterprises.
We have defined the Cultural Corridor as East Biloxi itself, and we have designated the stretch of Main Street in East Biloxi between Esters Boulevard and Division Street as the “Gateway.” This stretch of Main Street contains several historic landmarks that were pivotal to the Civil Rights Wade-In movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s that ultimately led to the desegregation of Biloxi’s public beaches, and communal, retail, and entertainment spaces that anchored a vital economic and social ecosystem prior to Hurricane Katrina. Consequently, we believe that renovation and preservation of the historic landmarks along this gateway will not only preserve Civil Rights history that is foundational to the Mississippi Gulf Coast that we know today but will catalyze redevelopment of the whole of East Biloxi concurrent with other development that is anticipated in the region as a result of BP Oil Spill settlement funds and the three opportunity zones surrounding East Biloxi.
preservation of historical communities
The Steps Coalition is working with the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (GCCDS) and the Build Healthy Places Network (BHPN) to ensure that the “Social Determinants of Health” are incorporated into our planning process and that we engage local/regional healthcare and insurance providers in the redevelopment process as potential investors and/or implementation partners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the Social Determinants of health as “…conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes…” and the determinants include the broad categories of Economic Stability, Education, Food Security, Social and Community Context, Health and Healthcare, and Neighborhood and the Built Environment. To date, Steps has completed a healthcare landscape analysis for Harrison County, Mississippi where the City of Biloxi is located, and we are currently working on a pitch deck to facilitate our discussions with healthcare providers in the county. Once we complete our assessment of Harrison County, our plan is to conduct similar analysis for Hancock and Jackson Counties.