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Housing Crisis, Housing Help in Rolling Fork, Mississippi

School of Journalism and New Media student Celeste Lay traveled to Rolling Fork, Mississippi six months after a tornado destroyed much of the town.

Jacqueline Brown can still hear the echoes of her granddaughter’s terror on the night of March 24 when a tornado ripped through Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

“My grandbaby, she was screaming and hollering because when the roof came off, it also picked her up and she started screaming, ‘I don’t want to die, Lord,'” Brown said.

Miraculously, everyone in the Brown family survived the event, but their home was destroyed. The Browns, like many others, found themselves struggling to find a place to call home. Rolling Fork’s Build Back Better program is designed to help.

Fred Miller, the former mayor of Rolling Fork and now a board member of the non-profit Build Back Better said construction on the first round of low-cost housing is already underway.

“We poured three foundations, and they’re going to start this week or next week and put the sides up on some of them,” Miller said.

Workers can be seen building new homes and businesses throughout the Rolling Fork, Mississippi community.

These new homes represent a lifeline for those who can’t afford to live in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) housing while simultaneously rebuilding their homes. Brown is one of those people.

“The trailer was given to us at first, but now what y’all are telling us is that we have to pay for them in the end. How can we pay for a FEMA trailer and build a house, too?” Brown asked.

The community’s new housing program offers a solution.

“We will then sell them to people who have no money at zero interest for 20 years on a $75,000 mortgage,” Miller said. 

Another board member, Emily Carter, said they are building more than houses in this program.

“The main thing is that we feel like we’re going to help people and have changed their lives, you know, go from poverty to a new home. That’s better than they probably came out of, and they’ll own it,” Carter said.

In addition to housing, the program provides participants with essential classes on how to be responsible homeowners.

“We require that they go through certain training—financial literacy, survival counseling, homeowner training, and I think two more sessions that they go through,” Miller said.

The tornado displaced dozens of families in the community of fewer than 2,000 residents.

Cynthia Prestianni and her family won’t need outside assistance to rebuild, but she and many others aren’t able to live in Rolling Fork while their new homes are under construction.

“We’re staying at my friend’s dad’s apartment in Vicksburg,” Prestianni said.

While the housing situation is still a problem for Rolling Fork, Prestianni thinks things will eventually get better.

“Rolling Fork is strong. We survived it, and we will rebuild the best we can.”

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