Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommends 7 projects for 2024 trust fund distribution
photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot
Members of the Affordable Housing Advisory Board came to a final decision Monday on which projects they recommend that Lawrence leaders grant Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars in 2024.
The group voted unanimously to recommend funding at least a portion of seven of the nine projects that originally asked for some of the $2.835 million available from the trust fund’s reserve for this year, with four of those projects granted the full amount they asked for. The recommendations the board settled on by the end of Monday’s meeting are as follows:
• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center should be granted the full $450,000 it requested for a supportive and rehabilitative permanent housing project on property the agency has already acquired at West Sixth Street and Rockledge Drive.
• Developer Tony Krsnich’s Flint Hills Holding Group requested funding for two separate projects but should receive full funding for only one of them: a $300,000 request for the New Hampshire Street Lofts project, which received $100,000 from last year’s trust fund awards and is still seeking further incentives.
• Wheatland Investments Group should be granted $1.3 million for its Floret Hill project, a new permanently affordable rental housing community slated for 14.5 acres on the southeast corner of Kansas Highway 10 and Bob Billings Parkway. The original proposal requested $1.6 million for Floret Hill.
• Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church should be granted $300,000 for it’s “Hope Project,” which seeks to construct six additional housing units in the area of the church’s existing apartment units used for temporary supportive housing at East Ninth and Tennessee streets. That recommendation is less than half of the church’s full request, which was $850,000.
• Independence Inc. should be granted the full $75,000 it requested to support its existing accessible housing program providing assistance to seniors and people with disabilities who are low- to moderate-income in making needed accessibility modifications to their homes.
• Douglas County’s Housing Stabilization Collaborative should be granted $509,000 in trust funds that would go toward its emergency rental and utility assistance program.
• The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority should be granted the full $50,000 it requested to help it continue its New Horizons Transitional Housing Program, which provides rental assistance and case management services to clients.
The board’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Lawrence City Commission, which has the final say on executing those funding decisions, for approval at an upcoming meeting.
Some requests were more popular than others among board members during discussion at Monday’s meeting. Board member Christina Gentry, for example, made it clear that she saw the Housing Stabilization Collaborative’s request as a high priority.
“I feel like the Housing Stabilization Collaborative does a lot of the data work that we would like to have done,” Gentry said. “It does a collection, it’s in real-time. And these supports, though we understand they’re not putting (housing) units on the ground, they’re keeping people housed and they’re keeping utility costs and the things that we know that are barriers to eliminate some of that discussion that goes into a household. … What we’re doing in essence, I feel, is eliminating there to be more houseless individuals, houseless families, because we’re providing supports that they need to stay housed.”
The Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church project initially drew some discussion because of some concerns about the total cost relative to the number of units of housing development it would actually construct if fully funded — it would add two units to an existing fourplex and fund the construction of an additional standalone fourplex. Board member Thomas Howe said the project gave him “a little heartburn,” because the board was essentially being asked to cover the bulk of the cost.
But that project also earned some praise from board members like Erika Zimmerman, who called it “innovative and different.” Board chair Monte Soukup also noted that as a first-time project for this applicant, providing enough funding for just two of the six housing units being requested might be a better starting point.
“I like the project,” Soukup said. “This is an organization that has been in our community for a long time and has done some incredible work, and this is kind of their first foray into building units. In my book, they’re worth a shot. Not an $850,000 shot, but they’re worth a shot. I think they’ll do great work.”
As for the two projects that didn’t make the cut, one of them was Krsnich’s East Heights Family Housing project, which was requesting $1.2 million. That project would partner with the nonprofit Positive Bright Start to create a 30-year affordable and mixed-income rental family housing development on the former site of East Heights Elementary School in east Lawrence. In part, that’s because only about $350,000 was left to dole out by the time discussion turned to the project.
But board members also voiced concern about the project’s structure, which unlike others receiving funding still requires a land acquisition and leaves it “very much up in the air.” Zimmerman said that was an especially hard decision given the innovative concept, which called for not just affordable housing but for built-in classroom space for Positive Bright Start.
The other project not recommended to receive any funding, a $1 million project from the Wichita-based Prime Company for a large-scale affordable housing development slated for a 16-acre property at 2115 E. 15th St., was withdrawn. In part, that was because rezoning plans for the project were soundly rejected last month when taken up by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. The Brook Creek Neighborhood Association, meanwhile, was very vocally opposed to the project and previously said the project would “cram an island of density into our neighborhood and change the character of it forever.”