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Residents, supervisors frustrated over slow pace of HOME projects

 

Lynn Ferguson stands in front of her mother’s house under construction off Gilmer Wilburn Road Thursday.

Lynn Ferguson stands in front of her mother’s house under construction off Gilmer Wilburn Road Thursday. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Nathan Gregory

 

Two Lowndes County homeowners will have their home rebuilt, thanks to grant funding from the Mississippi Development Authority's HOME Investment Participation Program. 

 

When the homes will be ready to move into is in question, however.  

 

The daughter of one of the homeowners said it's been a month since she's seen anyone hammer a nail on her mom's house, and multiple Lowndes County supervisors have grown inpatient at lack of progress. 

 

Each year, the MDA requests applications for the program. Qualified applicants have owned their homes for at least a year, and the house must be suffering from substantial deficiencies. The homes are demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. 

 

Golden Triangle Planning and Development District administers the applications on behalf of Lowndes County. Supervisors oversee the bidding process for construction of the homes. GTPDD Program Coordinator Spencer Broocks said this year requests totaled $35 million, but the state only received $3.9 million to distribute. 

 

Applications from two Lowndes County homeowners were accepted last year -- Willie Hill of George Bridges Road in Crawford and Augusta Fergerson of Gilmer Wilburn Road in Artesia. 

 

The projects were put out to bid and LRJ&J Construction of Jackson, headed up by Eddie Jones, was awarded both contracts. His company was to receive $88,750 to build Fergerson's new house and $88,600 for Hill's. GTPDD gave LRJ&J notices to proceed on Fergerson's house last November and Hill's house in January, Broocks said. 

 

Both contracts called for the homes to be complete in 180 days, but Fergerson's daughter, Lynn, said the only components that appeared to be finished as of Thursday were the framing, the roof, insulation, air conditioning and two tubs. Lynn Fergerson lives next door to the site and her mother is living with her until the work is done. That enables her to monitor any progress, or lack thereof, every day.  

 

"If he's not going to do more than what he's doing, I'm willing to let (supervisors) find somebody else," Fergerson said.  

 

Broocks said the option to discontinue a contract mid-project is a decision only the homeowner can make -- not the supervisors. 

 

After it is determined that the contractor is halfway finished with the project, the contractor is supposed to receive half of the contract amount so he can have some money to finish the house. The second half of the contract is paying after an inspection determines the house is complete and move-in ready. Broocks said he sent a request for cash from MDA on June 9. The county is still waiting on that money to issue to Jones on Hill's house, Broocks said, but he has received the first draw for Fergerson' house. 

 

Supervisors Jeff Smith and Leroy Brooks both said that's no excuse for the projects not being closer to completion.  

 

"The person who did the concrete slab (for Jones) hasn't been paid," Smith said at the June 30 supervisors meeting. "We understand the person that did the roof for Mrs. Fergerson hasn't been paid. It seems like this guy is only working when he gets a paycheck, which is once a month. I don't know how much longer we can continue. Yokohama will be completely built by the time these houses are built. 

 

"At some point we have to say enough is enough. I'm not advocating taking food off anyone's table, but right now this thing has gotten to be embarrassing. It's embarrassing for the county to say we're associated with the project." 

 

Jones said as a small-business contractor working on HOME projects for the first time, he is accustomed to receiving more than two draw downs over the course of a building project to buy materials and hire subcontractors to complete various portions of the job. Between the two homes, he said he has spent $68,000, and a delay in funding means he can only afford to do so much at a time until he receives more money. Unusually wet weather has also hindered progress, he said. 

 

"It's taken me a little longer than I anticipated because I'm out of Jackson and most of my base of support is really out of Jackson," Jones said. "I hired local subcontractors in the area. They're just not working out the way I anticipated. So now I'm getting my subcontractors coming from Jackson to help me complete this project." 

 

Jones also said he planned to have Hill's house completely framed with the roof and exterior windows and doors installed by Monday. He said at the end of July, Fergerson's house will be finished. Hill's will be done in August, Jones said.  

 

"I'm getting used to this program and I want to stay a part of this program now that I understand how it works more," he added. 

 

Broocks said he plans to report to supervisors Monday on Jones' progress after visiting one of the sites today. 

 

"The endgame we're trying to reach is to get these houses completed, get quality work done in a timely fashion and get these people back into their house," Broocks said. "I honestly hope that we can finish this project with the current contractor because we don't want to switch in the middle and that's where we are on both of them. A lot of rain in June has made for difficult building weather, but we should be further along than we are." 

 

Leroy Brooks, however, questioned Jones' ability to get the projects done. 

 

"(Fergerson) told me he didn't even set up a power pole and has been using their electricity, so you have to wonder whether (Jones) has the financial capacity to complete these jobs," Brooks said. "I'm hoping at this juncture that (GTPDD) would make a determination that they want to void the contract and get someone else to complete the work. It's just an unnecessary delay and it's not good for the program nor the homeowners involved." 

 

Fergerson hopes whoever ends up being in charge follows through soon. 

 

"We're really trying to get this going," she said. "I really want it done. If he can do it, I want him to do it, but it's just taking him too long to do it."

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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