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Archive for Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hutchinson struggling with city’s housing stock

January 4, 2012

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The city of Hutchinson may be about to hire a housing director and create a Community Housing Trust fund, but Mayor Ron Sellers thinks that whatever it’s doing, it’s not enough and not fast enough to stem the deterioration of the city’s housing.

“We have to speed this deal up. Neighborhoods are deteriorating at a greater pace than our ability to come up with ideas to make improvements,” Sellers said. “We’re losing ground now, and we’re going to lose ground in the future.”

What began as a routine study session to discuss creating a Community Housing Trust Tuesday turned into a wide-ranging and lively discussion of the kinds of housing the city needs, what it should do and where to get the money.

“Government can’t do it all, and the general fund can’t do it all,” said Planning and Development Director Nancy Scott. “The trust is to bring in different types of revenue to fund the goals we want to accomplish so we can make a difference.”

The Community Housing Trust, she said, would be a vehicle for receiving donations and grants from private foundations. State and federal grants, she said, would continue to be managed through the city finance department.

One advantage to having a separate fund for money from non-government sources is that there would be greater flexibility in how private money could be spent, said Housing Commission Chairwoman Emily Hurst.

Government grants come with restrictions, such as requiring homeowners to meet income eligibility guidelines and limits on how much can be spent to rehabilitate a house. In the past, the city also has had to deal with geographic limits on where government grant money could be spent.

“There are a lot of creative things we can do with private funds,” Hurst said.

Private funding also could get around objections such as those raised by Council member Bob Bush.

Bush said that most people he has talked to support the city’s relatively inexpensive Brush Up Hutch program, which offers to reimburse low- to moderate-income homeowners up to $250 for the cost of paint for the exterior of their homes.

“The people I know are 100 percent behind the paint program and helping the elderly and handicapped, but they are not behind helping landlords on rental property or people who have jobs and choose not to take care of their property,” he said.

However, Housing Commission members Greg Binns and Ron Kelley mentioned that if they are to achieve the goal of elevating the quality of housing in entire neighborhoods, rental properties will have to be addressed because they are often right next door to homes occupied by elderly owners.

Sellers said he thinks the city “needs to take more aggressive action” to enforce city code violations at rental properties.

The next step, Bush said, should be a conversation about the role of the City Council in housing. Perhaps, he suggested, the council should triple or quadruple the budget for demolishing unsafe houses.

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