The lack of applications for project funding from the city of Lawrence might be an indication that affordable housing isn’t the problem city leaders think it is.
The city set aside $300,000 in funding for affordable housing projects this year. So far, the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board has received just two applications for funding totaling $105,000. The board reviews projects and makes recommendations to the Lawrence City Commission.
About 60 percent of Lawrence renters and about 30 percent of homeowners are identified as cost burdened when it comes to housing, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes on housing. National health rankings have designated the shortage of affordable housing in Douglas County as “severe.”
The city created the Affordable Housing Advisory Board in 2015 and committed funding for the city’s Housing Trust Fund to help address the issue.
The Housing Advisory Board has recommended approval of the two projects that requested funding this year, including $75,000 for Lawrence Habitat for Humanity to build three homes and $30,000 for Tenants to Homeowners to build six low-cost one-bedroom and two-bedroom cottages.
Both are worthwhile projects that represent a good use of the city’s affordable housing funds. The Habitat for Humanity homes will be sold to families with incomes below 60 percent of area median income. They will be built in the 1900 block of East 17th Street and will be completed in early 2018. The Tenants to Homeowners 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.
It is the second straight year the city has funded projects from the two organizations.
Still, what does it say about the affordable housing issue in Lawrence that requests for only about a third of the funds available were received?
Vice Mayor Stuart Boley, who represents the City Commission on the Affordable Housing Advisory Board, said the board didn’t open the application process until late spring, which he thinks may have limited applications. “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.”
It also may be that the perception of Lawrence’s affordable housing problem exceeds reality. The city is coming off of a record year for apartment construction, greatly increasing the availability of rentals. And while Lawrence home sales are up 6.8 percent in 2017 in comparison with 2016, the average sales price is only up 1.2 percent.
It’s good that the city set aside funds that will help add nine affordable homes to the city’s inventory. But city commissioners should also keep the low volume of project requests in mind as they determine where affordable housing fits on the city’s list of priorities.