Nixon pledges $122 million for Joplin home rebuilding

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | 6:07 p.m. CDT; updated 1:00 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 1, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon outlined plans Tuesday to allot $122 million in state and federal aid to rebuild homes for low- and moderate-income residents following the May 22 Joplin tornado.

The money could start flowing soon to owners of single-family homes needing to be rebuilt or repaired and could continue on a longer-term basis for the construction of additional homes and apartments, Nixon said. Most of the state assistance will have to be approved by the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which provides financial incentives for affordable housing developments.

The tornado killed 159 people and damaged about 8,000 homes and businesses. The latest state unemployment report indicates that the Joplin area lost about 9,400 jobs in June, largely as a result of tornado damage to businesses. Because of that, the area may have an enlarged pool of people eligible for the income-based housing assistance.

"Ensuring that residents, and especially families, have access to adequate, affordable housing is a critical part of that recovery process," Nixon said in a written statement.

The governor wants $22 million available soon for Joplin housing, with about half coming from housing commission programs and the other half from the state Department of Economic Development. The housing commission portion would tap into a revolving loan fund to provide developers with financing assistance for construction; it also would offer homeowners down-payment grants equal to 5 percent of a home's purchase price and provide home-repair grants of up to $20,000. The state economic development agency would provide money through its Neighborhood Preservation Program and Community Development Block Grants.

Nixon also wants the housing commission to allocate $50 million in state tax credits, which would be matched by $50 million in federal tax credits, for the construction of rental housing for low- and moderate-income residents. The tax credits would be allotted over a 10-year period beginning in 2012, but the tax-credit vouchers could be sold by recipients to generate upfront cash for construction projects.

The plan would dedicate about 38 percent of Missouri's annual share of low-income housing tax credits to Joplin, so there would be less money than usual available for housing developments in St. Louis, Kansas City and the rest of the state.

State housing commission staff worked with Nixon's administration to develop the Joplin housing incentives. But they need approval from the commission, which is not scheduled to meet until September. A special meeting likely will have to be called before then, said Tina Beer, the housing agency's operations director.

"Our objective is to get construction going — and get it going now — so these people have someplace to live, and to get stability back into the community so people don't move away," Beer said.

Joplin city officials have intentionally slowed the pace of reconstruction to make sure it is well-planned. A moratorium on building permits was lifted earlier this month for the western part of the tornado-damaged area. But construction is still on hold in more than half of the tornado zone, city spokeswoman Lynn Onstot said Tuesday. In many areas, the primary focus remains on debris removal and restoring an infrastructure that could support new homes, she said.

"We want them to rebuild," Onstot said. But she added, "We want them to have a plan."

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