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.

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.

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.”