City of Laurel works to make sure all citizens have a beautiful, safe place to call home

April 27, 2023

While everyone loves a good fixer upper story where a plucky (and handy) person finds a house at a good price and is able to make it beautiful with a bit of new paint, a drop of elbow grease, and a whole lot of shiplap, those fun before and afters are not always an option. For too many residents of the City Beautiful, making their home “an after” seems like an insurmountable task. Age, disabilities, inexperience, and tight budgets stand between them and the work needed to make necessary improvements on their homes.

All homes need repairs and maintenance over time especially in South Mississippi where homes must stand up to extreme weather conditions including heat in the summer, hurricanes in the summer and fall, and tornados and hail storms in the winter and spring. Fortunately, the Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC) offers assistance through its Homeowner Rehabilitation program to help those in need.

The City of Laurel recently received grant funding from MHC to complete projects for six homeowners in the city and hired Housing Grant Administrator La’Keylah White, owner of Grants Unlimited LLC, to administer the grant and oversee the projects through completion. The MHC was founded in 1989 to address the need for affordable housing throughout the state. It’s primary purpose, according to MHC materials, is “to assist owner occupied and rental housing targeted to moderate and lower-income working families.” One of the ways that MHC accomplishes this goal is through its Homeowner Rehabilitation program. This program provides funding to “preserve owner-occupied units when feasible by securing structural integrity and correcting deficiencies in major systems.” Some homes may be considered too damaged to repair. In that case, the existing structure can be demolished and a new one can be built to replace it.

In order to qualify, the resident’s household income must be at or below 80% of the area median income and the resident must own the property and have lived in the property for at least 15 years. A home must be replaced if three or more major systems including electrical, roofing, foundation, plumbing, or heating and cooling units fail to meet the current building code. Units that meet the building code in at least three of those systems may be rehabilitated if the cost is less than the limits established for the application cycle.

As a result of these “established limits”, putting together a grant application for this funding is a little like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The funding is provided to MHC from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and grants are capped at $550,000 per grant cycle. Homes receiving rehabilitation can receive up to $50,000 in repair work or, if it is considered a historic home, up to $60,000. The grant application cannot ask for more than 40% of the work to be new construction and these costs do not include appraisals, administrative fees, or inspections. Because of this, White starts with a baseline or template to request funding for two new homes and four rehab projects per grant cycle. She makes adjustments depending on what needs are uncovered as she works with the homeowners who want to apply for funding and the contractors who determine what needs to be done and provide bids on how much it will cost. These constraints also limit the number of projects that can be covered under one grant period.

“The state makes this available every year,” she explained. However, once a grant is awarded to an area, all of the projects detailed in the grant must be completed before the city can apply for funding for another round of projects.

The City of Laurel was awarded a grant package from the MHC in 2019 and has faced myriad complications with completing the work since then- including the death of the state building inspector, state staffing shortages, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Normally, we would apply for this every year,” White explained. “They used to be just new construction but the state started doing rehabs again in 2017 or 2018.”

The process begins with an open application period for interested homeowners and a public hearing. “The last one in Laurel was standing room only,” White recalled. Homeowners and their projects are selected based on how the proposed projects fit into the established guidelines. White tries to make sure that her proposals include help for those who need it the most and then fills in with projects that are less complicated or dire.

For the grant that is currently being administered, the city is working on a total of six homes. One home was to be demolished and rebuilt while the remaining five homes will receive extensive renovations. “I love being able to help people on this level,’ White said. “I love seeing the smiles on the homeowner’s faces,”

One homeowner who is already smiling is Laurel-native Betty Abney. Abney, who lives with her daughter on North 5th Avenue, was thrilled to celebrate the ribbon cutting on her newly renovated home, on Tuesday, April 11th. The Jones County Chamber of Commerce and Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee joined Abney, contractor William Jordan of WJ Services, LLC, and guests to celebrate the completion of the grant-funded project. Abney’s home was the first one to be completed for this grant cycle and she and her daughter, Keyanna, will be moving back into their home within the next few days.

“We are fortunate to be able to bring this to the citizens of the city because there is a great need in the city for housing. There is a great need for people to be able to renovate their houses. A lot of people own their houses but they can’t put a lot of money into it and this program allows us to do that,” Mayor Magee stated.

During the ceremony, Jordan and Abney both expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to work with the City of Laurel to get the project completed and they both described the project as “a blessing.”

After Abney cut the ribbon, she and Jordan offered a walk-through of the home to show the amazing progress that had been made as a result of the project.

Jordan explained that part of the home’s lot is in a flood zone and over the years, water had become trapped underneath the house. This retained moisture caused significant damage to the home’s flooring and walls. He pointed out that was mold and mildew throughout the house including in the carpets. Jordan and his team removed the water from under the home and installed a sump pump to keep the area dry in the future. They also removed the existing flooring and replaced it with water and weather resistant flooring made to look like wood planks. They removed the mold and mildew, covered the once-affected areas with Kilz primer and repainted the entire house. They also replaced rotten wood inside the house and on the porch, rescreened the screen porch and windows, replaced a screen door, rewired the entire house, addressed plumbing issues in the bathroom and a plumbing leak under the house, and made the bathroom more ADA compliant by adding grab bars in the shower.

“It looks like a new house!” Abney gushed as she guided guests through the home. The historic home, which is over 100 years old and features an original wrap-around front porch, was eligible for up to $60,000 in grant funding due to its age and the extent of work needed. White pointed out that because it is in a flood zone there were additional FEMA rules to consider when putting together the grant proposal. “If you are doing a renovation in a flood zone, you can’t go over 50% of the value of the house or else you have to elevate the house out of the flood zone and get an engineer,” she explained.

“It’s a blessing that we got that grant,” Abney said. “I thank the Lord for Lakeylah and for the City.”

“We thank them. We appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts for doing this because the house was really messed up,” Keyanna added.

Both Betty and Keyanna noted that William Jordan and his team did a wonderful job, demonstrated a high level of professionalism and were a great team to work with throughout the process.

Abney was so pleased with the outcome of the project that she strongly encourages others in the city to find out if they can qualify for the next round of funding. “Go for it,” she said. “It’s a blessing for anybody who needs help on their house. There’s a lot of help out there.”

To balance out larger projects such as Abney’s, White also seeks out homes that don’t need as many costly repairs. Janice Jones’ home is a brick home on a slab that needs some repairs to bring the electrical components up to the current building code, as well as some other improvements such as fixing a hole in the drywall that happened when someone in the home suffered a fall, replacing the bathtub and bathroom lighting, checking the home for asbestos and lead paint, and fixing a moldy spot in the back of the home that first appeared after Katrina. Jones said that she hired a company to get rid of it back then, but it did not go away and keeps stubbornly hanging on.

Barbara Gray is also expecting her home to be renovated with money from the MHC grant program. She has lived in her Jim Walter home since it was constructed on site 27 years ago. Gray grew up in Laurel but moved to Michigan with her husband, Willie, as he pursued better paying jobs. They raised their three sons there and once the youngest graduated from high school, the family moved back home to Mississippi. Gray had her own career as a forklift operator and a TSP operator for Sunbeam and Lowe’s. “I was always the kind of person if I saw something that was interesting to me I would do it. I enjoyed it. I had a ball. It was a good job, too,” she said. She retired from Lowe’s at age 62.

White explained that Gray’s home is another great candidate for the grant program because her home repair needs are “not that major” and projects like Gray’s can be used to help balance out the portfolio on more extreme cases or, if several “non-major” projects could be applied for in one grant more work on more houses for more homeowners could be accomplished within a single grant cycle “if we could get to them in time before they get too bad,” she explained.

The major hurdle for Gray has been the waiting. In addition to the program being slowed due to the recent pandemic and staffing shortages at the state level, Gray’s project was delayed again when a relationship with a contractor fell through.

As part of the process, each project must be bid on by local contractors and approved of by the Laurel City Council. The council reviews the bids and selects the best one. Once a contractor is awarded the bid, it has to go back to the state agency for approval, before he can begin work on the project. This can be a lengthy process and contractors who are not prepared for the “hurry-up and wait” nature of grant funding can become discouraged and back out. It seems that this is what happened to Gray. The first contractor had won the bid on her home repair project but was unable to work through the process with the state and eventually dropped out leaving White and Gray to start over from scratch. Fortunately, William Jordan was available, won the second round of bidding, and will be completing the work on Gray’s home as he did on Abney’s.

Gray was frustrated with the process because she was already planning to move. “Thank God that He didn’t let me move!” she said.

Once Jordan begins on Gray’s home she will move out, and he and his team will work on the home’s skirting, pillars under the house, and replace the flooring in the kitchen. Before she retired, Gray bought wood flooring to replace her carpets but has not been able to have them installed. Jordan and his crew intend to install the flooring for her. They will also install a walk-in bathtub, which is the thing that Gray is looking forward to the most. Walk-in bathtubs make it easier and safer for people with mobility issues to get into and out of the bath. Currently, Gray has a chair in her shower. “It’s a slip and fall hazard,” she said. ”I’m a little woman and if I fall, I will break something. There’s going to be some complications!” She regretted that she didn’t get a bathtub when she first built the house but noted that people don’t think about those things when they are younger.

White explained that Gray’s experience is common among grant recipients. “They have to be really patient,” she explained as the process can be quite involved. “These kinds of projects will test your patience,” she said.

“I think that in the end you are going to be pleased,” White told Gray. Gray agreed. “What God has for me, is for me,” she said.

Another homeowner who is going to be pleased is Ralph Dubose. Dubose bought his home on Poplar Drive in 1988. Mr. Dubose is deaf but reads lips and is looking forward to having his home altered to be more accessible. Several years ago, while he was still new to the neighborhood, Dubose suffered a serious accident that left him bedridden. His dog escaped the house and one of the neighbors found it and brought it back. When the neighbors saw that Dubose was stuck alone in the house, they sought medical attention. The accident and subsequent infections resulted in Mr. Dubose having to undergo multiple surgeries and some amputations. When he returned home, he had a nurse to help him. While she assisted in his recovery, she also encouraged him to do as much for himself as possible, including washing dishes as a form of therapy. “I came a long way in there,” he said as he recalled the many days of working with his nurse to regain mobility. While he did come a long way through recovery and now has prosthetics and frequently uses a wheelchair at home, his home was never altered to accommodate his new needs. With the home grant funding, Mr. Dubose’s home will receive several upgrades to make his home more accessible and comfortable for him. His bathroom will be remodeled to be more handicap accessible, his doorways will be enlarged so that he can go from room to room in his wheelchair, his kitchen cabinets will be lowered, and several cosmetic issues inside the home will also be addressed.

Having endured such hardships has not put a damper on Mr. Dubose’s enthusiasm or bubbly, outgoing personality. During a recent interview with a local media outlet, Dubose smiled as he chatted with reporters and shared his excitement about the project and his appreciation for White. “I love it! I sure need the help to fix it up,” he said of the project. “It’s been a while trying to get help to fix it. I’m proud of it. I am blessed and love her for it!” he said of White and her work on the grant applications.

Once all of the projects approved in this grant cycle have been completed, the City of Laurel will be eligible to open up the application process and apply for another round of funding. When that happens, the city will notify the public about the opportunity and inform interested homeowners about what steps they should take to be considered for the program. To learn more about the MHC grant please visit their website at

In the meantime, the city also provides information to homeowners about home repair loans and grants available through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). More information about USDA home repair loans and grants can be found at or by contacting the city clerk’s office or the mayor’s office.

In all, the City Beautiful is a beautiful place to call home and residents of the city have a wide variety of options to help them make and keep their homes beautiful. From working with private contractors themselves, to reaching out to our excellent civic organizations, to working with the City of Laurel and its partnerships with La’Keylah White, the Mississippi Home Corporation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the USDA, there are many ways that residents can make their Laurel home homier—no shiplap required.

For more photos, visit us on Instagram at laurel_ms or on Facebook at City of Laurel - Government.






The City of Laurel, established as a lumber town in 1882, is conveniently situated approximately two hours from larger destination cities such as Jackson, Biloxi, New Orleans, and Mobile. In recent years, the city has become a destination all its own thanks, in part, to its starring role in HGTV’s popular “Hometown” series. As Laurel, and interest in it, continues to grow, we are committed to providing the resources necessary to help all of our residents and businesses reach their full potential.
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