City leaders discuss statewide housing needs, governor’s budget proposal for $20 million for moderate-income housing

photo by: City of Lawrence

Members of the Lawrence City Commission discuss a recently completed statewide housing needs assessment with Kansas Housing Resources Corporation Executive Director Ryan Vincent, far right, as part of the commission's study session on Jan. 18, 2022.

As the City of Lawrence works to address its affordable housing shortage, one question local leaders had was whether $20 million proposed for housing in the governor’s recently released budget proposal could help Lawrence.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission received a presentation from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation on its recently completed Kansas Statewide Housing Assessment Report and discussed housing issues with a KHRC official. The commission, which in recent years has been working to address local affordable housing shortages, requested a presentation on the report after it was released last month.

Gov. Laura Kelly unveiled her recommended budget on Jan. 12 and is proposing allocating $20 million in one-time spending from the state general fund to moderate-income housing. Commissioner Amber Sellers asked KHRC Executive Director Ryan Vincent what those dollars could potentially be used for.

The KHRC administers housing and community programs across Kansas, and Vincent said the hope is that the additional money would allow the KHRC to expand eligibility for its moderate-income housing program, which he said currently only has $2 million in annual funding and is limited to rural communities with a population under 60,000. Vincent said the rules that come with the funding would ultimately determine how it could be distributed, but the hope is that additional money would expand the program’s reach.

“Our hope is that the additional money would allow us to not only increase the size of our grants, but depending on the structure that comes with it, open it up to more urban areas as well,” Vincent said.

The housing assessment analyzed the housing needs and market conditions for all regions of the state as well as for specific communities. One of the key challenges highlighted in the report was a growing shortage of middle-income housing. Vincent said that gap is affecting all communities in Kansas.

“There is an income band that makes too much to qualify for the federal programs but simply does not make enough money to meet the market needs, and that’s in Lawrence, and that’s in Iola, and that’s in Dodge City, and it’s in Wichita and everything in between,” Vincent said. “It’s our nurses, it’s our firefighters, it’s our teachers — it’s the folks that we want and need in our communities.”

Other statewide challenges noted in the report include a lack of variety in housing types; a need to preserve and reinvest in existing affordable units; and a need to address a labor shortage in the building trades. Some of the themes noted for Douglas County include an inconsistent review and approval process at times; the high cost of site development; and an unmet demand for smaller and lower-maintenance options.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei asked Vincent what legislative issues KHRC is working on that the city should be following and encouraging. In addition to investments in moderate-income housing, Vincent said the state needs sustained long-term housing funding. He said those conversations would be happening at the Statehouse, but that it was also important that both the state and local governments use some of the federal pandemic relief from the American Rescue Plan Act to make investments in housing.

In other business:

— The commission voted unanimously to proceed with final design plans for a $7.6 million project to reconstruct a portion of Wakarusa Drive and add a roundabout at its intersection with 18th Street.

— As part of the commission items portion of the meeting, Sellers requested that the commission revisit the city’s long-standing Percent for Art program, which allows city leaders to set aside up to 2% of a building project’s budget for public art. Most recently, the program funded a $325,000 public art project for the city’s new police headquarters. Mayor Courtney Shipley and Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen also said they were open to discussing the particulars of the program.

• The commission voted as part of its consent agenda to approve a $240,000 professional service agreement with the Center for Transportation and the Environment for project management services for the second phase of the city’s process to transition to zero-emission electric buses. The funding for the agreement is included in the $2.51 million allocated in the city’s budget for transit vehicle replacement; $1.8 million is funded by a federal grant, and the remainder is from the city’s transportation fund.


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