Affordable Housing Advisory Board could urge Lawrence leaders to direct city staff to create utility payment plan options

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

On Monday, Lawrence’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board could move to recommend that the City of Lawrence adopt utility payment plan options for residents experiencing financial difficulties.

Approving a letter of support to that end is one of the items on the agenda for the board’s Monday meeting. Specifically, the letter calls for the Lawrence City Commission to direct the city’s Finance Department to create payment plan options. The Affordable Housing Advisory Board meeting falls one day before the City Commission’s regular weekly meeting, which includes two agenda items related to next year’s utility rates.

“Implementation of a utility payment plan by the city can provide a safety net for those experiencing financial difficulties by allowing eligible residents to spread their utility payment over time, reducing the immediate burden and helping them avoid disconnections while continuing to make progress on any outstanding balances,” the letter reads. “Implementation of such a plan will clearly demonstrate the city’s commitment to prosperity and economic security as outlined in the city’s strategic plan.”

The letter notes that similar plans are currently offered through private utilities like Evergy and regional cities like Gardner, Garden City and Independence, Missouri.

The letter also notes that this recommendation first came from Douglas County’s Housing Stabilization Collaborative, which offers emergency rent and utility assistance to tenants. Since March, that aid has been distributed via a randomized lottery system designed to provide for more parity than a previous first-come, first-served process. The Lawrence City Commission earlier this week signed off on the Affordable Housing Advisory Board’s award recommendations for Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars in 2024, which included $509,000 toward the Housing Stabilization Collaborative.

Though the city doesn’t currently offer any utility payment plan options, it does operate a smaller-scale utility assistance program of its own. That program is completely community funded and launched in August 2021.

The last time the City of Lawrence offered a payment plan option for utility bills, it was to collect backpay on the nearly $2 million Lawrence residents owed after the city suspended late fees, collections and shut-offs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Affordable Housing Advisory Board meets at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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