Archive for Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lawrence seeks to fund affordable housing project with $100,000

Construction is underway on Cedarwood Senior Cottages, which is being built by local nonprofit Tenants for Homeowners. It will feature 14 rent-controlled living units available for seniors who meet the necessary income guidelines. Tenants to Homeowners hopes to have six of the units ready for occupancy by about March and the other eight ready by June. The site is located at 25th Street and Cedarwood Avenue. This view is from behind the United Way building at 2518 Ridge Court looking east over foundations in the foreground and built units in the background.

Construction is underway on Cedarwood Senior Cottages, which is being built by local nonprofit Tenants for Homeowners. It will feature 14 rent-controlled living units available for seniors who meet the necessary income guidelines. Tenants to Homeowners hopes to have six of the units ready for occupancy by about March and the other eight ready by June. The site is located at 25th Street and Cedarwood Avenue. This view is from behind the United Way building at 2518 Ridge Court looking east over foundations in the foreground and built units in the background.

January 19, 2016

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The city’s newly established Affordable Housing Advisory Board is looking to use the $100,000 in its trust fund to finance its first project — one it hopes will demonstrate what the board does and what it wants to achieve.

City Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether the board can distribute a request for proposals, putting the call out for people or organizations to submit their affordable housing projects for consideration to be funded. The board will select one of the projects, then take that recommendation back to the City Commission for final approval.

Members of the advisory board are seeking a “shovel-ready” project that can be completed sometime this year.

“It’s a project we hope will really start something big,” said Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, who serves on the board.

The nine-member Affordable Housing Advisory Board was established in July with the purpose of overseeing the city’s housing trust fund and recommending how that money be spent.

The housing trust fund contains approximately $100,000 — the amount left over from a previous housing trust fund created in the early 2000s.

Construction is underway on Cedarwood Senior Cottages, which is being built by local nonprofit Tenants for Homeowners. It will feature 14 rent-controlled living units available for seniors who meet the necessary income guidelines. Tenants to Homeowners hopes to have six of the units ready for occupancy by about March and the other eight ready by June. The site is located at 25th Street and Cedarwood Avenue. This view is from behind the United Way building at 2518 Ridge Court looking east over foundations in the foreground and built units in the background.

Construction is underway on Cedarwood Senior Cottages, which is being built by local nonprofit Tenants for Homeowners. It will feature 14 rent-controlled living units available for seniors who meet the necessary income guidelines. Tenants to Homeowners hopes to have six of the units ready for occupancy by about March and the other eight ready by June. The site is located at 25th Street and Cedarwood Avenue. This view is from behind the United Way building at 2518 Ridge Court looking east over foundations in the foreground and built units in the background.

Thellman said there was discussion among board members whether to spend the available money on a project this year or let funding accumulate and put it toward a larger effort.

It was ultimately decided the board get started on making tangible progress, she said.

“The thought was, there’s such need and there’s so much interest and goodwill toward making progress with affordable housing, that it seemed important to go ahead and try to use this original $100,000 to see what we could accomplish,” Thellman said. “We hope to have that as an encouragement to the community to keep the ball rolling.”

According to a draft of the request for proposals, the funds can be awarded to one or more projects that provide a public benefit. Proposals can include acquiring, rehabilitating or developing affordable housing or services that help maintain independent living.

Proposals are due Feb. 19. The advisory board plans to bring a recommendation to the City Commission in March.

The Rev. Matt Sturtevant, who was selected as chairman of the advisory board at its first meeting in November, said he wants the first project to “have an impact.”

As a pastor at First Baptist Church for the past six years, Sturtevant said he’s seen multiple church members relocate to other towns, farther from their workplaces, because of Lawrence’s lack of affordable housing.

“I’ve seen a lot folks struggle with finding affordable housing here in town,” Sturtevant said. “It’s been something that’s in my heart. It’s a complicated problem, but there’s a lot we can do to chip away at it.”

City Commissioner Stuart Boley, who is also a member of the Affordable Housing Advisory Board, said he hopes the other city commissioners can come to a unanimous decision to support a project with the dollars from the housing trust fund.

“I really want all of the commissioners to be satisfied that we’re doing the right thing with that money; I don’t want to have anybody feel like we’re doing the wrong thing,” Boley said. “I want to have some consensus around some of these things. I’m willing to talk and work with people to achieve common understanding. It’s really that important that we do it.”

The housing trust fund will soon see some contributions from local developers, who must pay into it in accordance with their arrangements with the city for public incentives.

Back in October, Boley introduced the idea to have owners of The Eldridge hotel pay a higher amount to lease a city parking lot that will be used to store equipment during an upcoming expansion project, and to allocate that money to the housing trust fund.

The hotel had originally offered to pay the city $6,720 total to take over the public parking lot at Seventh and Vermont streets. Boley worked to change that lease agreement to require The Eldridge owners to pay $8,000 monthly for the 28 spaces, with a maximum of $120,000.

Developers of a new apartment building at 800 New Hampshire St. will contribute $75,000 to the housing fund.

Bill Fleming, a Lawrence attorney representing the development group headed by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, told commissioners in December that the group would make the payment if their industrial revenue bonds were approved. Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the incentive.

The Affordable Housing Advisory Board is planning to discuss at its March meeting other, long-term revenue streams for the fund.

Boley said the board’s first project this year is only its “initial effort.”

“I think it’s very important for the community we make progress for affordable housing,” he said. “This will be a key piece in that puzzle.”

Comments

Brett McCabe 1 year, 3 months ago

Nice to see activity on the affordable housing front. Thank you to those on the board who are working to provide solutions.

I've wondered recently if the momentum of the tiny house movement would have some applicability to affordable housing issues in Lawrence. Not necessarily tiny houses in the purest form, but tiny houses that eschew some of the traditional, space and energy-wasting design elements in standard homes being built today.

Bob Forer 1 year, 3 months ago

Co-housing is a very interesting concept that should be explored./ Not only is it less expensive, but for the right group of folks, it could mean a real boost in quality of life.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 3 months ago

Good work. I wouldn't mind tax incentives being given to builders who are building low income housing, with rents based on income, as long as they stick to that plan. Maybe sign a 50 year contract saying they will continue to rent to low income, and they get a break on property taxes. If they break the contract, then they have to pay a huge fine. And the units have to pass inspection, so it doesn't attract slum lords. Don't give incentives to builders who are building for those who can more than afford to pay a higher rent to pay for taxes.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 3 months ago

Dorothy, the misconception on the incentives for some recent developments, or the missing fact, to be more to the point, is that those developments are going to generate a net gain for the community in total tax collections. People continue to post as if we have given away money when, in fact, we will collect more money than we would have otherwise.

Further, most of the residents in these developments place a lower demand on city services and schools.

I'm a card-carrying Liberal but we have got to get over the idea that public investment, with an almost guaranteed return, is a bad thing simply because we are partnering with "developers" or businesses that make a profit.

The two goofs on the commission, who continue to espouse that the only good investment is an investment that directly generates jobs, are doing the community a great disservice.

All incentives should be carefully considered. And there have been some "misses" before, but the city has got to grow up and learn that partnership can and will work.

Theodore Calvin 1 year, 3 months ago

Brett, the problem we have had with incentives is that we haven't been protected as a community by the commission. We have left ourselves open for abuse of those incentives, and no way to define & measure their success or failure. I'm fine with tax incentives so long as they achieve the desired effect. Is the desired effect more apartment buildings? But if we haven't even allowed ourselves to figure out if they are working or not, then how do we REALLY know?

You may be correct that those entities will give back to the community thrice-fold, but we are gambling when we make those projections out in the future, and there is no guarantee. The business could also completely fold. The business could also open up new businesses in the agreed upon TIF and take advantage of the district, bilking the taxpayers. The only thing that is certain in most of these situations is that we continually give money to people who have proven not to have the community's best interest at heart. Incentives can help to grow our economy, so let's start using them for that.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 3 months ago

Theodore, I'm in full agreement that anyone involved in an incentive program operate with 100% integrity. If they can't do that, then they can't get the money.

Regarding the failure of the business, it actually can benefit the city if the project goes under. Any major residential or hotel project in the core of the city that goes out will virtually immediately be bought up at a lower price. The new owner gets a better deal that allows either rents to go down, or the project to profit due to lower finance payments.

As part of the incentive, the city needs protection on the assessment value so that the math works, regardless of whether or not the property is successful. And we need a foolproof way to collect the taxes or take the property if they aren't paid. I don't want us exposed to significant losses, either.

Theodore Calvin 1 year, 3 months ago

Can anyone even name a project where tax incentives were involved that we consider a complete success, where those on the receiving end of the benefits were 100% honest & transparent, and us on the giving end would be more than happy to extend the same courtesies again? I can't think of a one. If past performance is any indication of future performance...

David Holroyd 1 year, 3 months ago

So the Treanor and Compton and Mr. Fleming are basically bribing the city for a vote in return for a "donation". See, even the rich folks don't really donate.

The city commission if going to be bribed into a vote, should up the ante to $175,000.

After all, John Menard is getting FREE money from the city and the county. No one cares about that? Why? Why doesn't Chad interview Mr. Menard to see why HE needs over &700,000 CASH?

Bob Forer 1 year, 3 months ago

All that good for a 100 grand. Imagine what we could have done with the millions and millions of dollars we handed over to the millionaire developers.

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