Plan approved to build almost 100 low-income homes in Oxford

Posted on Sep 8 2017 - 8:00am by Trenton Scaife

A new housing development is on its way to Oxford’s outskirts with plans of creating affordable housing opportunities for resident and non-resident city workers alike.

The 96 new homes, set to be complete in 2020, will be built east of the Riverside Place apartments and an undeveloped section of land between Brittany Woods and Oxford High School. The proposal was passed Aug. 27 as a collaboration between the city of Oxford and LOU-Home and has a budget of $20 million.

Proposed by land developer Stewart Rutledge in 2016, these will provide city employees who make less than $24,000 a year with new housing options closer to the city. The median rent in Oxford – $1,073 for a two-bedroom apartment – has driven much of the city’s municipal workforce to live in outlying areas, such as Abbeville to the north and Alesville to the west. At half the cost, the three-room, 2 1/2-bath homes will help bridge a financial gap that’s kept workers outside the city.

Amberlyn Liles, superintendent of Oxford’s environmental services, said city workers could benefit from the development. Liles has employees living out past Panola County, a 30-minute drive from Oxford, and bringing them closer will improve their quality of life.

“At least half of our employees live in another county or at least 15 miles outside of town, so I think [the new housing option] can only help,” she said.

This financial gap that put many of Oxford’s workers outside city limits is alleviated, through Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code. Through this, the government gives tax credits to those who invest in land development. For the eventual tenants, this not only means rent will be low, but after 15 years, they’ll be able to call these homes their own. It’s a system Rutledge says he’s implemented with overwhelming success across 800 homes in Tennessee, Florida, Texas and elsewhere in Mississippi.

“We pursued Section 42 funding because it allows for the construction of extremely high-quality homes under a lease-to-own model and has generated strong and stable communities for us time and again,” Rutledge said. “It’s very fulfilling.”

Liles predicts that once the houses are available, the intended occupants will fill them quickly.

“We’re so popular with our school system and goings-on in the city that you can’t have enough affordable housing,” Liles said.

Maj. Sheridan Maiden of the Oxford Police Department weighed in on the potential for the houses to draw tenants from outside Oxford, saying it’s possible they’ll come from other places within the city.

“We could have people transitioning from apartments here to a single-family dwelling,” Maiden said. “It could be people who are staying with their relatives now find new homes, so I don’t see where it’s going to affect our overall population here.”

Because a commute may last as little as 10 minutes from Alesville, a number of city workers may opt to stay where they are.

“There are people out there who own property, so for them to relinquish that, to come into a situation as you’re saying now, there’s a lot of thinking involved,” Maiden said.

While the houses and their effects on the community are still two years away, Maiden said he sees a scenario where future residents will come mainly from outside the city, attributing the potential growth to Oxford’s reputation.

“We may not be a metropolis, but when you look at it, we have great city services, great schools, and it’s a nice place to be,” Maiden said.

Even as people do move into the new development, there may not be an immediate need to grow the municipal workforce. With the University of Mississippi, Oxford regularly sees the population grow and shrink seasonally as students move in and out. Maiden said he believes with the school in mind, city services will be able to accommodate and keep pace with new permanent residents.

“At times our population swells, and at times it decreases, and I think we’ve done a really good job with what we’ve got,” Maiden said.

Whatever the future holds as new houses pop up, Maiden said he looks forward to seeing the community grow.

“We like what we see, and when we see an opportunity to grow, we embrace it and see where it takes us,” Maiden said.

With more developments planned for Mississippi, Rutledge said he has no plans to stop bringing affordable housing options to the Deep South communities.

“We want to do everything we can to serve our fellow community members,” Rutledge said.