City of Lawrence moves forward with land donation, paving way for Tenants to Homeowners’ 14-acre affordable housing project in west Lawrence

photo by: City of Lawrence

Plans for an approximately 15-acre site include affordable apartments, row homes and duplexes. The City of Lawrence donated 4.64 acres — the area marked in green — toward the project to Tenants to Homeowners, a local nonprofit organization.

The City of Lawrence announced Monday it is moving forward with donating about five acres of city-owned land to local nonprofit Tenants to Homeowners, which the agency will use to develop more than 100 affordable housing units in west Lawrence.

The 4.64 acres of land is at the corner of Kansas Highway 10 and Bob Billings Parkway, directly adjacent to a 10-acre parcel of land Tenants to Homeowners already owns. The agency plans to build 78 affordable housing units on the donated land and 44 units on the land it already owns, for a total of 236 bedrooms worth of new housing. Of those units, 110 of them will be rentals and the remaining 12 will be for purchase.

That squares with the agency’s plans filed with the city, which the Lawrence City Commission considered in June. At the time, the commission approved the donation unanimously. Now that the land donation is official, work on the project is set to begin in 2023.

In addition to the donation from the City of Lawrence, Tenants to Homeowners will be partnering with a for-profit developer familiar with affordable housing tax credit projects in Lawrence, rather than in-house contractors. The agency’s executive director, Rebecca Buford, told the Journal-World in a phone call Monday it’s a great example of how a project like this needs “everyone to give a little bit,” and even then there are challenges to consider such as the cost of inflation and labor shortages.

“We have good partnerships — for-profit, non-profit partners — and we have city-donated land,” Buford said. “We started with a donation from a for-profit developer of the other 10 acres, so the land for the whole 14-acre development has been donated, and it’s still really hard to create really affordable, high-quality housing.”

Buford said the agency will likely need to seek additional grant money to ensure the project ends up being what they want it to be — a well-designed community that serves people with different housing needs and income levels.

Buford said the goal will not be to “create a concentration of poverty” via cookie-cutter housing targeted at just one income level but rather to create community through a variety of different housing types — townhomes, duplexes and single-family residences, for example. She said development with that goal in mind should also include elements like communal spaces, places where people could garden, or commercial properties like a local coffee shop and other businesses.

Such mixed-income neighborhoods are often more economically resilient, Buford said.

“We want to have a mixture of incomes and housing types so that you create what happens to most neighborhoods over time — they become more of a hodgepodge, which is a strength of neighborhoods,” Buford said.

The project is set to be the first large-scale affordable housing development in west Lawrence. Buford said Tenants to Homeowners has caught criticism in the past for developing more on Lawrence’s east side, though she said that’s partially because of development patterns; western Lawrence has more recently seen more new development and annexations, while it’s easier to find smaller-scale infill lots available for development in east Lawrence.

The donated land, which has an appraised value of $374,430, plus any future grant funding should help make developing on the west side possible. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be a cheap project; millions will have to be leveraged, and she said it’ll only be possible thanks to partnerships.

“That’s a huge part of it that I think is a real benefit to our community, that we have organizations that can do that,” Buford said. “And yes, that we are listening to our community and saying ‘We need affordable housing in every neighborhood.'”


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