Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommends city partner with private property owners to develop affordable housing in Lawrence

photo by: City of Lawrence

Members of city staff and the city's Affordable Housing Advisory Board met virtually as part of the board's meeting on Sept. 13, 2021.

The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board would like the city to more actively pursue partnerships with private property owners to develop affordable housing in the community.

As part of its meeting Monday, the board voted 12-0 to recommend that the City of Lawrence issue a request for proposals for private property owners who are interested in working with the city and other partners to develop affordable housing. If the City Commission is interested considering a future RFP, the board can put together a more specific recommendation.

As part of the meeting, Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard presented a list of several city-owned properties that could potentially be options for development, which included city-owned parking lots downtown as well as parcels in southeast and northwest Lawrence. Stoddard said there could also be additional affordable housing opportunities on private property within or outside the existing city boundaries, which would require sellers and developers to partner with the city to create affordable housing. Stoddard said an RFP could be a way to organize that process and provide an opportunity for everyone who has available property to submit a proposal so the city has an orderly way to look at the different options and see which are best to proceed with.

“That may be helpful in order to structure that kind of a conversation,” Stoddard said.

Board member Rebecca Buford, who represents Tenants to Homeowners, said she thought an RFP would be a good way for the city to get more mixed-use developments that include both affordable and market-rate housing. Buford said it’s a great time for the city to issue an RFP because the city, county and social service agencies have already been discussing how local pandemic relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used to help acquire property to develop affordable housing projects.

“So continuing in that vein but with the power of city as a requester, I think that would just enhance and amplify that process so that we really can find the best and most viable infill projects,” Buford said.

Board member Dana Ortiz, who represents the nonprofit Family Promise, said she thought property owners who might want to sell or work with the city on affordable housing projects were out there, and what the community needs is a good vehicle to identify those properties and begin the conversation. A lot of the city’s affordable housing is concentrated east of Iowa Street, and Ortiz said working with those who own property or lots could help the city with its goal of distributing affordable housing across the city.

“This would be a tremendous opportunity to get scattered sites across the entire city, possibly with funding that could be braided with other funding sources such as AHAB money and some ARPA money that could come through,” Ortiz said. “This could be not just a few units here and there; it could be a number of units if we had a nice structure and process to do this together as a community.”

If city commissioners are interested in pursuing an RFP, some board members expressed interest in looking at a similar RFP recently issued by Kansas City, Mo., to learn more about the process Kansas City followed and the responses received. Ultimately, the commission would have final approval of the RFP.

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