The city of Lawrence has won a nearly $500,000 housing grant to help build more affordable rental units in the community.
If new foreclosure numbers out of the Douglas County Courthouse are any indication, the timing is good. Foreclosures in 2010 — through November — are up 77 percent compared with the same time period a year ago, according to a new report from the Douglas County Appraiser’s office. Completed foreclosures through the first 11 months of the year totaled 217, according to the report.
As more people lose ownership of their homes, it also has become problematic for some tenants to find affordable rental units.
“Finding a unit in Lawrence can be difficult,” said Margene Swarts, assistant director for the city’s development services division. “The rule of thumb is that you don’t pay more than 30 percent of your gross income on housing and utilities. In Lawrence that isn’t much for some. I believe there are a lot of folks in Lawrence who are rent burdened.”
The city will receive $475,000 through the state’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The city plans to partner with Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners to build at least four new rental units.
Rebecca Buford, executive director for Tenants to Homeowners, said her organization is looking for specific locations. The grant money may be used to buy two vacant pieces of ground for new units and to buy two homes that are currently on the foreclosure market. Those homes then could be renovated into rental units.
Buford said she’s hoping to build two or three-bedroom units. She hopes rents on the new units will be in the $650 to $750 per month range.
“There are a lot of apartments for students in that range,” Buford said. “But I think it is fair to say that what might be a good rental for a student may not be a good rental for a family. If you have a 2- year-old, there are some issues that are a lot bigger deal to you than if you’re a college student.”
Tenants for the new units will have to meet state and federal law to moderate income guidelines. At least one of the units will have to reserved for a family that is 50 percent or below the median income for Douglas County. The others will have to be 80 percent or below the median.
The grant is the second major dose of funding for affordable rental projects the city has received in the last two years. In 2009, the city received about $560,000 in grant money. The city partnered with Tenants to Homeowners and Douglas County to build five new rental units in the 1100 block of Rhode Island Street.
Tenants to Homeowners also is working on a multimillion dollar renovation of 20 affordable rental units formerly managed by an offshoot of Independence Inc. Tenants to Homeowners has taken over Independence Inc. Accessible Residential Options, a housing program that provides handicapped-accessible rental units.
The program has rental units along Yale Road near Iowa Street and also on East 21st Street Terrace. Tenants to Homeowners has received $2.2 million in low income housing tax credits to help fund the project. Buford said plans call for the 1980s-era units to be completely refurbished and outfitted with energy-efficient appliances.