Lawrence’s new affordable housing board got a step closer Monday to funding its first housing project, a three-home complex that would receive $100,000 in city dollars if it’s approved by the City Commission next week.
The board voted Monday to advance a proposal for its “demonstration project” that includes three family-sized homes on La Salle Street. The project is intended to be complete sometime this year in order to show the public what the affordable housing board and trust fund were established to accomplish.
“This first project really needs to demonstrate the highest end of our goals,” said board member Rebecca Buford, the executive director of Tenants to Homeowners.
Proposal for demonstration project ( .PDF )
The proposal forwarded Monday — the only one submitted after the board put out a call for projects in January to receive the $100,000 — is a partnership between five nonprofits: Tenants to Homeowners, Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise, Willow Domestic Violence Center and the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.
Plans for the project include building three family-sized homes, two of which would be rented and the third owned. Family Promise and Willow Domestic Violence Center would refer residents for the homes and provide support programs and case management.
The new homes would all have at least three bedrooms, according to plans submitted to the advisory board. The nonprofits intend for the homes to be used as transitional housing so they can permanently serve those qualifying for affordable housing. Those with incomes less than 80 percent of the median family income for the area qualify for the housing, but, the proposal states, taking referrals from Family Promise and Willow means the housing would prioritize those with much lower income.
Representatives from the involved agencies said Monday that they'd like to use the project as a model for how the organizations could work together to provide their services.
“Just the partnership and network building and growth of these three little units could create some really good programs we could scale out,” Buford said.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $500,000. Tenants to Homeowners currently owns the three lots at 908 La Salle Street and is in the process of demolishing a “blighted” home there, Buford said. Besides the $100,000 in funds from the city’s affordable housing trust fund, the project will be funded through donations and $200,000 from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Tenants to Homeowners would donate the land, valued at $75,000, and Family Promise, Willow and the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority would pay to provide their services and vouchers.
Five members of the nine-member affordable housing advisory board voted to advance the proposal. The other four members were representatives from the organizations involved in the project and had to abstain from voting. To reach the quorum necessary to vote, the board phoned in City Commissioner Stuart Boley, who is a board member.
The proposal is expected to go before the City Commission at its March 1 meeting. If approved, Habitat for Humanity will immediately begin the process of choosing a family for its home on the lot. John Harvey, a representative with Habitat for Humanity on the advisory board, said donations for the project are already in hand.
“We have a group of donors looking for a project,” Harvey said. “They’re excited by it.”
The advisory board, established in July to oversee the city’s housing trust fund, put out a request for proposals in January for the demonstration project. The proposal reviewed Monday was the only one submitted. Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said other groups contacted her with questions but didn’t end up submitting anything.
Nancy Thellman, a Douglas County commissioner and a board member, noted the advisory board needed to “work really hard to avoid any sense of favoritism” toward the organizations with representatives on the advisory board.
“We’re talking taxpayer dollars,” she said. “It has to be a really solid process. I’m glad to know other organizations are interested, and going forward I’m sure we can give organizations more time.”