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Archive for Sunday, October 14, 2007

Legislators propose housing help for storm-ravaged areas

October 14, 2007

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— A bipartisan group of state lawmakers want to provide $50 million to build new housing in Kansas communities still hurting from storms earlier this year.

The Greensburg tornado in May and flooding in southeast Kansas destroyed an estimated 1,300 homes, few of which have been replaced. That has forced hundreds of residents to remain displaced.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, said the plan, which has the support of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, would take $5 million already allocated for disaster relief. The State Finance Council is expected to vote on the plan next week.

"This is one step is what must be a long-term effort to help damaged communities get back on their feet," said Schmidt, who represents several towns that were damaged in the floods, including Independence, Neodesha, Fredonia and Iola.

Lawmakers recently heard from local officials that new housing is the biggest obstacle to recovery in the region.

The plan called for the $5 million to be placed in a state housing trust fund. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation would use half of the money to attract federal funding for multifamily housing projects aimed at low-income residents and the elderly, Schmidt said.

"This cash will help the numbers work," he said.

The corporation will use the rest of the money to begin a new "rent to own" program modeled after a similar one offered at the federal level.

Under the program, Schmidt said, displaced residents who lack the means could receive money for rebuilding or to finish remodeling a damaged home. Participants could receive up to 20 percent of the cost of the project, or a maximum of $25,000.

The state would begin offering the programs later this fall, assuming they're approved by the finance council.

Lawmakers are also developing a disaster aid package this month that will go before the full Legislature next year.

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