It’s the best of times and the worst of times.
Pascagoula is truly a tale of two cities.
Our strong industrial base, high-paying jobs, and revitalization efforts make us a city of the best of times, but due to unwise federal flood policies since Hurricane Katrina, our housing market is in its worst.
Before this unprecedented storm, about 20 percent of Pascagoula — mostly low-lying wetlands — was in a floodplain. After that, FEMA redrawn the Mississippi flood maps and placed 90-95 percent of our city in a flood plain. FEMA primarily added homes that had never been flooded before Katrina and have not been flooded since. The negative effects are enormous.
Unfortunately, unlike many other coastal communities, 90 percent of Pascagoula’s commercial and residential property values either fell or remained flat from 2008-2018. FEMA rules have fueled this decline.
Still, FEMA treats Mississippi differently than our neighbors.
The Orange Beach floodplain manager commented in an article in Bloomberg: “Two properties right next to each other – one is Mobile and the other is Jackson County. You are right over the state line where you have no relevant site changes, but you have seen drastically different base tide heights.”
Embedded in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the rule is “substantial improvement/50 percent.” This policy states that property improvements greater than 50 percent of a structure’s value must be brought into FEMA compliance in order to be insured. Put simply, these properties need an upgrade and a major makeover.
This misguided federal regulation paralyzes Pascagoula. It makes it virtually impossible to improve local neighborhoods.
Imagine someone buys an $80,000 home, but the previous owner spent $20,000 on repairs. Therefore, the new homeowner is only allowed to spend $20,000 on renovations over the next 10 years. But what happens when the new homeowner invests $20,000 in a new roof and other needs and a month later has a kitchen fire? FEMA says they can’t pay to fix it. Unacceptable.
This is happening all over Pascagoula. It leads to rot, demolished homes and lower property values for neighbors. Essential workers for America are unable to repair their homes. We fight to save working-class neighborhoods that have been flooded once in over 100 years, not beachfront homes. FEMA gives us more regulation and less freedom.
One of Mississippi’s most prosperous economic communities sees many of its neighborhoods decayed by unjust federal rule. Pipe fitters, welders, engineers and others just don’t have opportunities to buy a middle class home in Pascagoula. Pascagoula is blessed and our thriving downtown revitalization efforts show promise, but how can Mississippi’s economic engine struggle to accommodate our workers?
But this problem does not only affect Pascagoula. It affects all of Mississippi. People from all 82 counties work in Pascagoula, but the state loses an estimated $250 million annually in revenue from about 5,000 high earners who live in other states.
Senators Wicker and Hyde-Smith and Congressman Palazzo understand that this is nationwide as well, and they are pushing for a solution in Washington, but we need more voices of support.
All we ask is fairness to our people. This is unfair and harms our city. Washington won’t fix this unless we make noise.
Visit www.sospascagoula.com to learn more and join our campaign for Pascagoula and beyond.
Jay Willis is the mayor of Pascagoula.