Archive for Saturday, August 22, 2009

City must note poor rankings on income, housing costs

August 22, 2009


It’s interesting — perhaps the words puzzling, disappointing or disturbing would be more accurate — to describe the apparent low public concern about a recent Journal-World news story that reported how low Lawrence ranks on income and high in housing costs compared to other Big 12 Conference cities.

The news story noted, “New numbers from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Lawrence’s 2009 per capita income was the second lowest of 11 Big 12 Conference cities for which data was available.

“And, when you compare the income that Lawrence residents earn to the average housing prices in the city, Lawrence fares the worst of all Big 12 cities.”

The story reported that Lawrence residents earned, on average, $31,125 in 2008, which was a 2.5 percent increase over 2007. However, that growth “wasn’t enough to push Lawrence’s income levels even close to average for either the country or Big 12 conference. Lawrence’s per capita income ranked 266th out of 366 metro areas in the country. It ranked ninth out of the 11 Big 12 cities that were measured. Stillwater, Okla., was too small to be included in the federal government’s latest release.”

But, despite Lawrence’s below-average income, the city has the second highest median value ($168,300) for owner-occupied homes in the Big 12. These Census figures show the average monthly mortgage payment in Lawrence was $1,346, which means a local resident with an average income and an average mortgage was spending 51.8 percent on housing. That was the highest of Big 12 cities even though Boulder, Colo., had median home prices of more than $340,000.

By the way, Boulder also has the 12th highest per capita income in the United States.

The reaction to this story and the poor position of Lawrence suggests local residents and officials are either satisfied with the city’s poor showing or, worse yet, complacent.

Some have tried to justify Lawrence’s poor standing on the fact it is a “college town” with a high percentage of college students with low or little income. The numbers noted above compared Lawrence with other “college towns” so there is no excuse to justify Lawrence’s terrible showing.

On the other hand, these figures may provide the embarrassing evidence Lawrence and Kansas University combine to package a very smug city. Smug in the sense that times will always be good for Lawrence; that city officials don’t have to operate with a sense of urgency and be competitive with other forward-looking communities. Smug in a sense that in recent years there really hasn’t been much evidence of Kansas University officials believing they should work with the city and its residents to help bring about many improvements. Smug in the sense that holding large, city-wide studies to set priorities for “X” number of years out is all that had to be done to ensure the city will grow and prosper in a manner deemed correct by those who really don’t want to see the city expand.

Smug in a sense that many call for expanded community services, expanded and improved recreation facilities, new athletic stadiums for two high schools, more nature trails and more of everything that is supposed to be good for a city BUT, not enough jobs, good-paying jobs, not enough good building sites and not enough citizens to pay for these expansions and improvements.

Not too many years ago Lawrence was looked upon as a leader among the Big 12 cities. People and businesses wanted to move to Lawrence. This was particularly true when it was the Big 8 conference without any of the Texas schools that joined the league in 1996.

The Texas schools, in many categories, raised the bar for cities such as Lawrence, Ames, Norman, Columbia, Manhattan, Stillwater, Lincoln and Boulder.

In past years, Lawrence was a leader in many categories and so was KU. Times have changed, however, and both Lawrence and KU have slipped. Why have Boulder and the University of Colorado grown, not slipped?

When the front page story about Lawrence’s poor showing appeared earlier this month, various city and chamber officials offered numerous reasons trying to explain or justify the embarrassing numbers.

It’s interesting there were no comments or concerns expressed by university officials even though KU should be playing a big role as a partner helping make Lawrence as good as it can be.

For years this writer has suggested Lawrence’s goal should be to be “America’s finest university city.” This would mean good and/or excellent education facilities, health care, housing, job opportunities, recreation facilities, retail shopping, clean government and law enforcement, a progressive outlook and a “great place to live and work.”

Lawrence and KU both have slipped in many ways. How will the Census figures just released about Lawrence’s fiscal position compare with similar reports made five or 10 years from now?

Lawrence and KU both enjoyed excellent records in past years but complacency set in. There is nothing guaranteed about future success even though past history may have been excellent.

Lawrence and KU leaders, as well as all residents, need to get to work. It’s easy to see the price the city and the university have paid for a feeling of satisfaction, complacency, smugness or elitism. We need action, not excuses, and leaders with vision and courage, not those trying to avoid offending anyone or stepping on any toes.


cowboy 8 years, 8 months ago

Which City Commissioners , Chamber leaders , City Managers , Local Business Leaders fit this description ? Dynamic , Assertive , Fiscally Responsible , Well connected to developing opportunities , possess a solid 3-5 year strategy for economic growth , track record of success in developing community programs , innovative in developing employment and training opportunities , willing to cut budgets in hard times , has the ability to restructure operations to be more efficient.

Stumped , yeah so am I

  • City commission should be elected from districts , neighborhood orgs should hold no more weight than the avg citizen
  • demand results from the funded groups , eco devo , C of C or fire them all and recruit some folks with the above qualifications.
  • Restructure the planning dept to get a biz opened and approved in 30 days or less instead of 6 months
  • Evaluate the usage of all grants and city investments and prioritize to spur job growth and business development , incubator districts for start ups , vocational training in lawrence.
  • Have the cojones to cease money losing operations by the city
  • Clean up downtown , get the homeless out of the prime retail area.
  • Install a mentoring program into our junior highs and High Schools to help the kids find employment trades and understand being a loser townie is not a vocation. Look at new extracurriculars to involve more at risk kids. These are tomorrows problems or successes.
  • Start a city endowment operation to get our rich folk to endow programs for high school vocational training.
  • Admit that the situation is a problem and address it . The leaders are complacent while they collect large salaries on the public payroll . Do your job , earn your salary.

Godot 8 years, 8 months ago

This is a very good topic, and one that really needs to be discussed.

I have a gut feeling that there are a relatively small number of very, very expensive homes in Lawrence that drive up the average, but maybe I am wrong.

Can anyone provide the median value? How about a chart showing depicting the number of homes above and below the median, and their values?

How about breaking income down between full time residents and students? If student income is included in income figures, then their cost for housing should be included in the average to get a true picture.

scaramouchepart2 8 years, 8 months ago

Godot; This topic has been discussed to death. In the last election there were two people whose campaign ran on this very topic and they came in bottom three. The sitting commissioners will not do anythiing. They talk a good story becuase it is what people want to hear. There was a affordable housing task force that was ignored and abandoned as soon as the new city commissioners were elected and the chamber doesn't want better wages. There is a group or two that have been fighting city hall for better wages for many years, and the whoever is the head of the chamber always comes and says no so the city commission does nothing. What is "interesting or perhaps puzzling" is that the JW who supported the city commissioners in the elections is now, that is safe to mention this, has made comment on this topic.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 8 months ago

Then why do the powers that be continue to increase the cost of living by ignoring calls for economic impact studies and a Cost of Community Service study? These are are tools that would prevent over saturating our local markets which do cause user fee increases and tax increases?

Yes Lawrence markets are over saturated which is UNfriendly to business thus UNfriendly to taxpayers.

Why are builders allowed to skate on property taxes? What kind of policy is this?

Why are the powers that be relentless in expanding our tax bills with new infrastructure and development that is not paying back the taxpayers?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 8 months ago

This is a HUGE problem for local taxpayers:

By Kim McClure July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.


Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence

Janet Lowther 8 years, 8 months ago

The anti-industrial and general anti-business reputation of the Lawrence municipal government borders on legendary.

How would you improve the situation? The easiest way I can think of is to curtail the city government's power to throw road blocks in front of industrial and commercial development.

It may be easier to get the legislature to curtail the power of municipalities than to get municipalities to act responsibly.

Jennifer Dropkin 8 years, 8 months ago

The governing and development forces in the city are not so much anti-industrial or antibusiness as they are simply uninterested in reasonable wages and reasonable living expenses for those who are not, well, themselves.

In jobs development, they consistently court projects that favor a select few and bring in limited, low-paying jobs that don't support the housing prices--jobs that often don't stay, if they ever show up.

They consistently overdevelop properties not to encourage new business coming in but to lure renters who are already here into abandoning whatever they are renting for newer, and damn everyone left with unrented units.

The problem is not with the city offering city services that make or lose money--that's the city's job. The problem is that the city allows itself to be wagged by developers. Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce--which takes an awful lot of our money through the city--should act less like a closed club and more like a government-sponsored entity accountable to the people who support it. Free and open meetings, perhaps? Clearly stated and advertised agendas? And I don't mean the kind of agenda that states when the coffee break is.

Godot 8 years, 8 months ago

I do not believe in some conspiracy that has caused Lawrence's low wages and high cost of living; I think that folly and personal foibles are the root of the problem.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 8 months ago

Wealthy people and the businesses they bring do not want to live in Kansas.

Part of it is geography and lack of public spaces and parks in the state (lowest in the nation).

Part of it is also an image concern. Why would wealthy successful people want to move their businesses to a state that is (rightly) perceived as backward when it comes to science, education, and modern society?

Wealthy, successful people do not want their children influenced or educated by the nutty religious right and all of their populist, anti-science and anti-progress craziness.

Geography and a bad but earned reputation for religious ant-science and anti-education viewpoints are the reasons, Mr. Simon.

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