- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

PICAYUNE, Miss. (AP) - The Habitat for Humanity affiliates of Pearl River and Hancock counties are merging in order to provide more affordable housing to the region. After an extensive two 7/8year process, the Habitat affiliate will be referred to as the Habitat for Humanity Bay Waveland area, with a tagline of, “Serving families in Hancock and Pearl River counties.

As the housing challenges across the two counties continues to grow, the need to unite as one affiliate has proven necessary, said Gene Yeager, board member of Habitat for Humanity’s Bay7/8 Waveland Area and Habitat Pearl River County.

“This partnership will allow us the ability to serve more families,” Yeager said. Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit Christian ministry that builds affordable homes to low 7/8income families worldwide.

They have more than 1,400 local affiliates in the U.S. and more than 70 national organizations around the world. In the U.S., Habitat for Humanity lends nonprofit, no-interest mortgage loans to its beneficiary families, according to the Habitat for Humanity’s website.

Wendy McDonald, executive director of Habitat Bay Waveland, said both counties have worked together since 2012 through the Neighborhood Home Program funded by the Mississippi Development Authority.



“Because of Katrina in Hancock County, we had a lot of funding available to us. We had a lot more staff than they did, so we got involved working with the MDA on different projects, and one of them was going to serve Pearl River County.

That’s when we entered into a memorandum with the county’s Habitat to work in the county,” McDonald said.

The program served 16 southern Mississippi counties and repaired more than 200 homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in Pearl River County.

So far, 17 homes for families in need of affordable housing have been built in Pearl River County via Habitat for Humanity.

Now that both affiliates are under one umbrella, that will allow them the resources to serve more families in the region and increase the affiliate’s capacity, McDonald said.

The Habitat affiliate plans to continue home weatherization in both counties to help homeowners save money by saving energy.

“For a couple thousand dollars, we can go into a home and get that utility bill down. For a lot of elderly families, they need the house warmer in the winter.

The bills are getting to be too expensive, and we want them to be able to stay at their home and for them not to spend a high proportion of their limited income on their power bill,” McDonald said.

In order to qualify for Habitat’s services, people must partner with Habitat and have a need for affordable housing. They also need to pass a background check and be able to afford to pay Habitat back as part of the partnership.

“They are expected to work on their houses. But if the houses are already built, they will be asked to work on another house or do some volunteer work at their church. That is their partnership with us,” Yeager said.

“Then they get a mortgage, which, except that they don’t pay interest on it, sort of puts them in the economic mainstream, like the rest of us, and means they own a house.”

McDonald and Yeager are optimistic that their partnership will help cover more ground. “We want to be sure that they get more in Pearl River County than before we merged. We think that we can do that,” McDonald said. “Being officially here, we can get out and say we’re Habitat and meet the public and set up shop officially. We’ve been very quietly working here, so we’re looking forward to developing relationships with donors, churches and businesses who want to get involved in the work we’re doing.” Yeager added, “There’s no reason not to work together. We’ve agreed that both counties can serve our people better through this kind of cooperation.”

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Information from: Picayune Item, https://www.picayuneitem.com

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