Two affordable housing projects could be bolstered by city funds this year, but the city lacks enough applications to award all the money it set aside to address the issue.
The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board is recommending the approval of projects from Lawrence Habitat for Humanity and Tenants to Homeowners, which were the only applications received. The board’s recommendation will be sent to the City Commission, which will decide on approval.
Last year, the city helped fund projects from those same organizations, and Vice Mayor Stuart Boley, the commission’s representative on the board, said he sees this year’s recommended projects as continuing that progress. He added that the board needs to learn as it goes along.
“This is kind of an extension of our initial foray into affordable housing with the demonstration project,” Boley said. “I think it’s consistent. There may be a wider spectrum of opportunities for us in the future.”
Together, the funding requested for the two projects accounts for only about one-third of the $300,000 the city set aside for affordable housing this year. The board has discussed having another round of applications for the remaining funds later this fall, but it has not taken formal action, according to Casey Toomay, assistant city manger and staff liaison to the board.
Significant portions of renters and homeowners in Lawrence spend more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes on housing, qualifying them as “cost burdened.” About 60 percent of Lawrence renters and about 30 percent of homeowners are cost burdened, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
National health rankings have designated the shortage of affordable housing in Douglas County as “severe.” The city renewed its efforts to address the problem and created the Affordable Housing Advisory Board in 2015. It also reinitiated funding for the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which helps fund affordable housing projects.
Boley said he thinks part of the reason only two applications were submitted was because the board didn’t open the application process until the late spring, which he said isn’t very conducive to construction schedules. He said that next year he expects the process will probably start in September instead.
“That’s my take on it,” Boley said. “We’ll probably learn more as we go forward. I think we need to learn more from people about what may have constrained them from putting forward some proposals.”
The city began accepting applications from projects in June. The application states that eligible projects include acquisition, rehabilitation and development of affordable housing and supportive services. The board made its recommendation to accept the applications this week.
The trust fund is funding with general obligation debt, which restricts the projects to construction projects as opposed to programming. The city’s five-year capital improvement plan includes another $300,000 for the trust in 2018 and $350,000 per year from 2019 through 2022. Voters will be asked in November to repurpose .05 percent of the citywide sales tax — expected to generate about $1 million annually — to fund affordable housing.
If the board decides not to accept additional applications this year, Toomay said the city could adjust the budget in order to use those funds next year.
Toomay provided the following summary of the two recommended projects:
• Lawrence Habitat for Humanity requested $75,000 to construct three homes: one three-bedroom and two five-bedroom homes. The homes will be sold to Habitat for Humanity families with incomes below 60 percent of area median income. The homes will be built on the 1900 block of East 17th Street and will be completed in early 2018. The request of $75,000 represents 15 percent of the total project budget.
• Tenants to Homeowners requested $30,000 to construct six low-cost one- and two-bedroom cottages. The cottages will be built on scattered sites throughout the city and eligible for households earning under 40 percent of median incomes. The homes will be placed in trust to remain permanently affordable. The board’s approval is contingent upon this project receiving necessary land-use approvals.