Lawrence City Commission to discuss how new affordable housing funds should be spent

photo by: Nick Krug

In this file photo from July 2017, two Lawrence Habitat for Humanity homes undergo construction in the 1900 block of East 17th Street. The city's affordable housing advisory board contributed funds to construct homes.

With the city’s new affordable housing sales tax set to go into effect this spring, city leaders will soon discuss how those dollars can be used to help alleviate the affordable-housing shortage.

As part of its work session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will meet with members of the Affordable Housing Advisory Board. The city will soon have hundreds of thousands of dollars more in funding to address affordable housing, and the commission and the board will discuss goals and strategies for using the funding.

Board members reviewed their recently established short-term goals as part of their meeting Monday, in preparation for Tuesday’s discussion with the commission. The five goals include potential ways to provide additional affordable rental units and affordable homes for purchase for low- and moderate-income residents. The board’s short-term goals cover the next five years and are primarily based on findings from a housing market report completed last year.

“Those are the data points of need and the gaps that we’re trying to fill,” Director of Planning Scott McCullough told the board, referring to some of the report’s findings.

The findings include that there are 5,200 renters burdened by their housing costs; 2,000 renters who would like to buy a home but have not been able to; and 700 families at risk of homelessness or currently homeless. Other findings the board aims to address are that 500 households need accessibility modifications and that 3,450 households, the vast majority of them renters, say their units are in poor or fair condition.

Funds from the city’s new affordable housing sales tax will start coming in later this year and, together with $350,000 of support from the city’s general fund, will provide about $850,000 this year for the city’s housing trust fund, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The new tax will start being collected April 1, but because of a lag in the actual receipt of the tax revenue by the city, the new dollars aren’t expected to be available until June.

A summary of the five short-term goals the board established and some of the potential strategies for achieving those goals are as follows. The full report is available on the city’s website.

• Narrow the rental gap for nonstudent renters earning less than $25,000 annually. Potential strategies for doing so include passing a city ordinance that prevents landlords from refusing to accept Section 8 housing vouchers and encouraging public-private partnerships to produce more permanently affordable units.

• Provide more home-purchasing options for low- and moderate-income residents. Potential strategies for doing so include using housing funding to expand the current homebuyer assistance program; using housing funding to buy and rehabilitate blighted and vacant properties; and relaxing some development requirements, such as parking, open space and setbacks, for the creation of permanently affordable homes.

• Help provide needed accessibility improvements for those with disabilities. Potential strategies for doing so include using housing funding to expand the installation of accessibility modifications or provide incentives to do so.

• Expand rental assistance for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness. Potential strategies for doing so include using housing funding to assist faith-based organizations to develop affordable housing and creating partnerships among nonprofit housing developers, homeless service providers and private developers to provide housing for the homeless.

• Help improve property conditions for low- and moderate-income residents. Potential strategies for doing so include using housing funding to provide grants to buy and rehabilitate blighted properties and using funding to expand the homeowner rehab loan program.

Lawrence voters approved a sales tax in 2017 that will provide about $1 million annually to the city’s affordable housing trust for the next 10 years. The Affordable Housing Advisory Board reviews applications for the funds and makes spending recommendations, which are then sent to the commission for consideration.

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

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