Lawrence City Commission to consider creating spending plan for new affordable housing dollars

Two homes sit within the location of a formerly blighted property at 908 LaSalle Street, in this photo from Sept. 14, 2017. The homes were a project of Lawrence Habitat for Humanity and Lawrence Tenants to Homeowners and were paid for in part with 00,000 from the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

A specific spending plan for how millions in incoming sales tax dollars for affordable housing will be spent could be on its way.

As part of its consent agenda Tuesday, the City Commission will consider expanding its ongoing housing study to include a “spending framework.” Development of the framework will add $2,600 to the cost of the study and will develop specific funding allocations based on the city’s affordable housing needs.

The consultants conducting the study, BBC Research & Consulting, already planned to develop recommendations for how the city should address its affordable housing shortage, but city officials say the spending framework will go beyond that.

“What this will do is take it one step further and give us an allocation framework that lines up with the recommendations,” said Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard, who is the city staff liaison to the Affordable Housing Advisory Board. “… They would go to those top priority needs first, whatever those might be.”

Stoddard said what the allocations will be will depend on the results of the study, but they could be related to specific housing types or specific populations. She said the framework would cover spending from the city’s affordable housing trust for the next five years, beginning in 2019 when a new affordable housing sales tax will go into effect.

In November, Lawrence residents voted to repurpose a 0.05 percent special sales tax that will provide about $1 million annually to the city’s housing trust fund from 2019 to 2029. About 40 percent of Lawrence renters and homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, qualifying them as “cost-burdened,” according to census numbers. Some of the public criticism leading up to the vote centered on whether the city had a clear plan for how it would address the affordable housing shortage in Lawrence.

Stoddard said the recommendation to add the spending framework to the study came from city staff. She said because the parameters of the study were developed before the sales tax vote, adding the framework to the study is an important opportunity to take. She said the plan would be used by the city, the City Commission and the board and create an agreed-upon strategy to address affordable housing.

“I think everyone wants to be very wise about the spending of these monies and spend them in such a way that prioritizes the need and leverages them the most,” Stoddard said.

Consultants with BBC outlined the creation of the plan in a memo to the city on Jan. 31. In the memo, consultants said creating such a plan was appropriate because of the sales tax vote. In addition, the memo states that part of the plan process would evaluate current programs and activities “for their relevance in addressing the most pressing housing needs in the community and recommend modifications.” Consultants are also recommending that data be gathered so that city staff can track projects to determine how successful they are in addressing needs.

The city awarded grants for 2017 and 2018 totaling $600,000 to three nonprofits to construct or acquire new affordable housing. The city awarded about $500,000 to Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to build a new facility that will provide temporary housing for no- or low-income mental health patients. The other grants were provided to Habitat for Humanity and Tenants to Homeowners.

If approved by the City Commission, the spending framework would bring the cost of the affordable housing study from $78,650 to $81,250. Stoddard said the framework would be developed during a workshop, likely to occur in early June.

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