Lawrence City Commission to consider contract for affordable housing study

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider authorizing a comprehensive housing market study that would provide insight on the city’s affordable housing shortage.

The study would cost about $80,000, and it would collect and analyze data on the city’s housing market and provide recommendations for addressing the shortage.

Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said the study will provide new sources of data, pulling together information on all factors affecting housing affordability as well as feedback from local organizations and residents.

Grant application

On Friday, the city announced the Affordable Housing Advisory Board is reopening its grant application period for affordable housing projects. Awards of up to $495,000 are available from the city’s affordable housing trust fund, according to the news release. The application period was opened and closed over the summer, but only two applications were received, representing only one-third of the funds allocated this year. More information and a link to download the application can be found on the city’s website, Applications must be submitted by Dec. 1.

“I think it is more thorough and looks at more aspects of housing affordability than just relying on census data,” said Toomay, who is the liaison to the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board.

Census data indicates that about 40 percent of Lawrence renters and homeowners — or more than 13,000 households — spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, qualifying them as “cost-burdened.” About half of those households spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, making them severely cost-burdened.

The study will analyze how various factors affect housing affordability, including economic conditions, the student population, and building and land development codes, according to the study proposal. The study will identify current and future housing needs and gaps for specific population subgroups. Ultimately, the study will recommend strategies for addressing the shortage.

When authorization to request proposals for the study was made in March, a city memo stated that there is “a lack of understanding” of the greatest affordable housing needs, making it difficult for the board to develop strategies and recommendations to effectively address them.

Toomay said the study would be used determine strategies to address the City Commission’s goal of ensuring residents have access to safe and affordable housing.

“AHAB’s plan is to be able to use the data to better strategize what initiatives and programs would best achieve that (goal),” Toomay said.

As originally planned, AHAB was to have that data sooner. The timing of the study has been an issue noted by some City Commission candidates due to the upcoming affordable housing sales tax vote.

In November, voters will decide whether to repurpose a 0.05 percent special sales tax that will provide about $1 million annually to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. If approved, the tax would be in place from 2019 to 2029.

The study contract is coming before the commission about six months later than originally stated to the commission. Originally, the study contract was expected to come before the commission in May for the study to be complete in the fall of 2017, according to a city staff memo from March.

It’s now estimated the study will be complete in April 2018.

Toomay said the difference in the study’s timeline is due to limited staff resources at City Hall. After proposals were received, she said negotiating the contract took time and was delayed by other priorities, mainly by the city’s budget process during the summer.

Authorization of the study contract is part of the commission’s consent agenda for Tuesday. If approved, BBC Research & Consulting Inc. would complete the study at a cost not to exceed $78,650, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

Funding for the study will come from the city’s affordable housing trust fund, and could be partially offset by a contribution from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Toomay said the LBR is one of several entities the city requested participate in funding the study, and that there may be others that come forward with funding.

Also as part of its consent agenda, the commission will receive a progress update on the 2017 goals for the Affordable Housing Advisory Board. The eight goals, developed by the board earlier this year, include increasing local and outside funding for the housing trust and developing a specific allocation plan for trust fund dollars.

In other business:

The commission will receive a presentation about new criminal justice programs in Douglas County, including a house arrest program and behavioral health court. The presentation will be provided by Robert Bieniecki, a representative of the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.