Partners (Number 3, 2008)

Spotlight on the District

Louisiana - Mississippi
Gulf Coast Renaissance Within REACH

Though Hurricane Katrina left behind a wake of unprecedented destruction and tragedy, it also created new opportunities for Gulf Coast leaders to collaborate strategically and establish visionary organizations that will build stronger, healthier communities. The Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation is one of the shining results of that collaboration.

Established in 2007 by the Gulf Coast Business Council, the corporation's vision is to be the "capstone organization in the rebuilding of the Mississippi Gulf Coast by removing obstacles to redevelopment, creating partnerships, and stimulating investment in order to create vibrant, diverse, sustainable communities that offer residents the highest quality of life."

Employers pitch in for affordable housing
Renaissance Corporation's ambitious but focused goals include providing workforce housing in close proximity to employment centers in the three coastal counties as well as removing existing barriers through an aggressive plan of gap funding. Regional Employer Assisted Collaboration for Housing (REACH) is one of the organization's key programs. Launched four days before the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it is designed to promote housing development, stabilize families and attract employees back to the coast.

Through REACH, qualified workers can receive down payment and closing cost assistance to purchase a home through an employer contribution and a significant match by REACH. REACH Mississippi will triple participating employers' contributions for qualified employees—giving workers up to a total of $40,000 in forgivable loans. Employer contributions must be from $5,000 to $10,000, resulting in a total employee benefit of $20,000 to $40,000.

"This program will help put working families into homes by making homeownership affordable again. It will give employers needed help to stabilize and grow the workforce by addressing the critical issue of housing," said Renaissance Chairman Anthony Topazi. "The program has far-reaching benefits to the economy of the entire region. By giving employers the keys they need to rebuild and prosper, we will all prosper. Another widely felt benefit of REACH will be to help relieve a local real estate market straining under a high inventory of homes for sale."

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, the state's largest employer, has adopted the REACH program and will soon start offering housing benefits. The Corporation is engaging in an aggressive campaign to educate and enroll other employers in the region.

The Renaissance Corporation is also building a strong homebuyer preparation network, with homeownership counseling as a integral part of the REACH program. Education and counseling partners, such as DASH for the Gulf Coast, Enterprise Corporation for the Delta, Hancock Housing Resource Center and International Relief and Development will guide employees step-by-step through the home-buying process and help them improve their credit scores when necessary.

The REACH program is supported by $40 million in Community Development Block Grant funds as part of the State's Long Term Workforce Housing Program. The program was developed with the help of contributions from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Southern Company Charitable Trust.

This article was written by Nancy Montoya, senior regional community development manager at the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch.