WAVELAND, MISS.—Karen Ladner knew there was plenty of demand for affordable housing in this city hard hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Every time she went to the grocery store, people would stop and tell her about their grandmother or uncle who needed a place to live.

“It just went on and on," says Ladner, executive director of the Bay Waveland Housing Authority and a longtime resident of the region.

Quick trips to the store turned into long conversations with locals trying to get back on their feet after the 2005 storms battered the Gulf Coast, including destroying all of Hancock County's public housing.

Ladner patiently listened and worked for five years.

Bringing seniors home

The result is Oak Haven Apartments, a new 80-unit seniors housing community and the first public housing project rebuilt in the county since the storms. Although the housing need cut across the entire population, developers decided to take care of the seniors first.

“The elderly needed to be settled," says Ladner, explaining that many seniors wanted to remain in the Bay St. Louis and Waveland area but were the least equipped to rebuild their homes.

Oak Haven sits on a site once occupied by 13 single-family homes operated by the housing authority. The property then housed 50 Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers for about a year following the hurricane.

The housing authority, with partner Centerpointe Regional Housing Development, endured the tough economic crisis to develop the project.

The team lost its initial low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) syndicator in 2008, says Ladner, whose agency was formed when the Bay and Waveland housing authorities consolidated after the storms.

Developers eventually closed on the financing in 2010 with the help of Enterprise Community Partners and American Express Center for Community Development.

The $15.8 million community is fi- nanced with Gulf Opportunity Zone housing tax credits from the Mississippi Home Corp. The tax credits provided roughly $7 million in equity from investor American Express through Enterprise.

Enterprise hopes Oak Haven will be the first of many LIHTC investments in Mississippi, said President and CEO Terri Ludwig when the development celebrated its opening earlier this year. The project is part of the organization's commitment to invest $200 million with its partners to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Additional financing for Oak Haven included $8.5 million in Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery funds from the Mississippi Development Authority, which Gov. Haley Barbour helped secure as part of his $100 million commitment to rebuild public housing on the coast. The development also received $500,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas' Affordable Housing Program through member Hancock Bank.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's field office in Jackson, Miss., also provided key support.

Oak Haven is made up of single-story duplex homes.

“We spent a lot of time on the design," says Michael Bowen, director of development at Centerpointe, a firm that works with many small and midsize housing authorities. The project is built to be hurricane resistant, with concrete- filled insulated form wall systems that will withstand 130 mph winds.