Affordable Housing Advisory Board hears presentations from Trust Fund applicants; 9 projects asking for more than $6 million

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

Developer Tony Krsnich speaks during the Affordable Housing Advisory Board's meeting on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. Krsnich was one of eight applicants who have applied for funding from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for next year.

The Affordable Housing Advisory Board had its first chance on Monday to hear more details from the nine projects that have applied for Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars in 2024.

There are nine applications vying for next year’s round of funding, and they each gave a short, introductory presentation about their projects to the board at its Monday morning meeting. Those projects range from additional support for rent and utility assistance for Douglas County tenants to supplemental funding for a variety of projects that will add more permanent affordable housing to Lawrence’s housing stock.

The amount of money on offer this time around is larger than usual, as the Journal-World has reported. The board has made the trust fund’s entire reserve of $2.835 million available for distribution this year, instead of its typical smaller funding pool. However, that’s less than half of the roughly $6 million in funding applicants have requested for 2024.

Next Monday, the board will meet again for a special meeting so members can discuss the proposals further, and next month they’ll work to finalize the recommendations they plan to make to the Lawrence City Commission for final approval.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center has requested $450,000 in trust funds to support a supportive and rehabilitative permanent housing project on property the agency has already acquired at West Sixth Street and Rockledge Drive.

According to Matthew Faulk, Bert Nash’s director of housing, the project would create 24 permanent supportive housing units, which would be income-based and require individuals to qualify for vouchers in order to live there.

Faulk said the plan would be to finalize project designs in the next six months, then tackle permitting in 2024. He said the project could break ground by the end of next year with an estimated completion date of the end of 2025 or early 2026.

Faulk said the project would be “part and parcel” to Bert Nash’s long-term plan for sustainable supportive housing development as an agency, as well as the City of Lawrence and Douglas County’s collaborative plan to address homelessness.

“We do want to reiterate that this is a significant component of the supportive housing plant of the homeless and housing plan that is going to be coming out and will come before the city and county commissions,” Faulk said.

Housing Stabilization Collaborative

Douglas County’s Housing Stabilization Collaborative is seeking $550,000 in trust funds to help it support its emergency rental and utility assistance program. The HSC received $350,000 from last year’s trust fund allocations to support the program.

Gabi Sprague, the county’s Human Services Program Manager, told the board that the additional support is crucial as county residents face a drastic increase in eviction filings compared to last year. Sprague said there have already been more eviction filings as of the end of the third quarter of 2023 — 629 of them — than the number of eviction filings made through the entirety of 2022, when there were 625.

“I think over the course of the pandemic, we’ve been talking about an eviction crisis,” Sprague said. “We’re here now, I think, but I would say that in our community, we are pretty well situated to support folks through that.”

Sprague added that in the year to date, the HSC has received almost 1,300 applications requesting $1,662,802 in rent and utility assistance.

Flint Hills Holdings Group

The development group owned by developer Tony Krsnich was the only applicant to request funding for two separate projects.

The first was a $1.2 million request for the East Heights Family Housing project, which would be on the former site of East Heights Elementary School in east Lawrence. That project would partner with the nonprofit Positive Bright Start to create a 30-year affordable and mixed-income rental family housing development.

Krsnich said the development would include an estimated 60 two- and three-bedroom units and, after an initial 15 year period, the “vast majority, if not all” of them would be available for families to purchase at affordable rates. At least 50 of the units would be affordable rentals for families at 30% to 60% of the area median income, and another 10 would be designated as new homeownership units for those at 40% to 80% AMI.

Krsnich said overall, the cost of the development would be an estimated $19,630,000; the development group also plans to request almost $10 million in federal and state affordable housing tax credits via the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.

Positive Bright Start would have square footage on the property, Krsnich said. The nonprofit would have classroom space, planning to serve about 40 kids from infants through preschool, and would offer mental health services for kids age 5 and younger. Krsnich said the company would enter into a 15-year, $1 lease with the nonprofit so it’s only responsible for tenant improvements and maintaining its common areas.

“I think it’s fairly unique to Lawrence, possibly even the state of Kansas,” Krsnich said. “This development is solely focused around multigenerational houses and developing eventual home ownership for families that have children.”

Krsnich’s development group has also requested an additional $300,000 for his New Hampshire Street Lofts project, which received $100,000 from last year’s trust fund awards and is currently working its way through the process of obtaining more incentives.

Krsnich said this was “strictly an economic request” intended to offset inflationary costs, and the project “just needs a little more help getting over the finish line.”

“We don’t have any more room to go on this project,” Krsnich said. “We believe that interest rates might go up 25 basis points or a quarter of a percent; it’s probably not going to go down for at least another year, year and a half. We’re here, shovel-ready, begging the commission to help us out with the additional $300,000.”

Wheatland Investments Group

Gardner’s Wheatland Investments Group has requested $1.6 million for its Floret Hill project, a new permanently affordable rental housing community.

Kelsey Herr, co-owner of Wheatland Investments Group, said the developer has brought projects to Lawrence before, including in last year’s trust fund process, but this one would serve a different part of the community than previous projects. It’s slated for 14.5 acres on the southeast corner of Kansas Highway 10 and Bob Billings Parkway.

“We believe that Floret Hill will be the fourth affordable housing development community Wheatland has brought into the City of Lawrence, but it will be the first on the west side,” Herr said.

Herr said the community would have a total of 121 units, including 12 one-bedroom units, 71 two-bedroom units and 38 three-bedroom units. She said 25 of those units would be dedicated to seniors age 55 and older, with the rest open to families. The vast majority of them would be available at 60% AMI, and 33 units would be available at 40% AMI. A smaller handful, four units, would be available at 30% AMI.

The community would include amenities like a community building, picnic and playground area, walking paths and garages. Herr added that Tenants to Homeowners also plans on building 12 to 14 family ownership units on the site, with plans to provide credit and first-time buyer education that would allow residents to move from renting to ownership. The nonprofit would also be the designated land donor if Wheatland decides to sell the project after its tax credit compliance period, so the units can remain permanently affordable.

Independence, Inc.

Independence, Inc. requested $75,000 to support its existing accessible housing program, which provides assistance to enable seniors and people with disabilities who are low- to moderate-income to make needed accessibility modifications to their homes.

Core services manager Daniel Brown said common modifications through that program include things like entry ramps, accessible showers, grab bars, widened doorways to accommodate walker and wheelchair access, and ADA-height toilets. The agency received $50,000 in trust fund dollars for the program last year.

In the past four years of this program’s existence, Brown said the agency has completed 28 projects across the city, and the majority of households served were “well under” 30% of the median household income. With last year’s funding, the agency has completed 10 projects, and it has five more applicants screened as eligible and another project currently in progress.

This year’s ask is $25,000 higher than the usual request, and Brown said that’s to eliminate the agency’s waiting list.

“We have enough funding to complete the project that’s in progress right now and potentially one more project, probably,” Brown said. “But after that, we’ll probably need to establish a waiting list of some kind for the applicants we currently have screened, and if there’s any other applicants we get between now and the end of the year (they’ll) probably need to go on a waiting list as well.”

Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority

The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has requested $50,000 to help it continue its New Horizons Transitional Housing Program, which was created in 2015 to address the needs of houseless families who are guests at the Lawrence Community Shelter or Family Promise.

Gallal Obeid, the Housing Authority’s vice president of program operations, said the program provides 24 months of rental assistance to two to three households — an average of eight to 12 individuals — and case management via one of ten community partner agencies. This request will allow Housing Authority to be able to offer housing to four to five additional families in 2024 with the help of another $50,000 from the county.

“What makes the funds very valuable is that not only are we able to quickly house these families and get them into homes, these funds create a pathway to permanent housing assistance,” Obeid said.

Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church

Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church has requested $850,000 to assist with constructing 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.

Called the “Hope Project,” committee chair Takisha Derritt said the project would add two units to an existing fourplex, including one that’s ADA-compliant, and an additional standalone fourplex to the property. The church has partnered with Family Promise for years to help house families in the existing units. Derritt said the largest populations served since 2011 have been female-led households and Black, Indigenous and people of color populations.

The church is targeting a 24-month turnaround, Derritt said, and working with “several partners” willing to assist with in-kind donations. She said the project is contingent upon the trust fund allocation, Derritt said, but they’re applying for other grants, too.

In the same way as the Wheatland project, Derritt said if the church ever decides to sell the property, either Tenants to Homeowners or Family Promise will be part of contract so the land always remains affordable.

Prime Company

The Manhattan-based Prime Company is requesting $1 million for its Eastbrook Apartments project, which is a large-scale 30-year affordable housing development slated for a 16-acre property at 2115 E. 15th St., southeast of Oak Hill Cemetery.

Owner Chris Elsey said the 192-unit housing complex would include 48 one-bedroom units, 96 two-bedroom units and 48 three-bedroom units, which would have rental restrictions set between 50% and 70% AMI. The complex would also include amenities like a clubhouse, gym and swimming pool.

Elsey said the company anticipates a roughly two-year construction timeframe, with a goal of starting construction in January 2025 and finishing by January 2027.

The total development cost is estimated at around $55 million, Elsey said, and it wouldn’t be developed as permanently affordable housing — just for the first 30 years.