‘Funding braids’ will be key to finding the $243 million in affordable, supportive housing called for in ‘A Place for Everyone’ plan

photo by: File photos

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., and the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

Depending on where you look, the price tag of the City of Lawrence and Douglas County’s joint plan to eliminate chronic homelessness gets a lot more daunting.

That’s no surprise, since just two sections of the five-pronged “A Place for Everyone” plan dedicated to affordable and supportive housing account for a combined $243 million in estimated spending over the next five years — 92% of the $267,741,481 estimated cost to fund all five goal areas, which also include equity and inclusion, systems and emergency services and shelter.

But while it may be tempting to think that coming up with nearly $250 million worth of additional housing is too daunting — and expensive — a hill to climb, some of the key voices in crafting the plan say it’s not that simple.

Earlier this month, the Journal-World spoke with some of the architects of “A Place for Everyone” to learn more about how they expect to fund the two most costly sections of the plan. The message from those two groups, one focused on the supportive housing goal and the other on affordable housing, was that their strategies for finding that funding will be more thorough than simply asking the local tax base to pay up.

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It may be helpful to start by considering that affordable and supportive housing projects aren’t typically funded by a single source, but rather through “funding braids.” That’s the way Bob Tryanski, the county’s director of behavioral health projects, explained it to the Journal-World.

The goals in “A Place for Everyone” related to supportive housing call for spending $28,431,000 to add 135 units dedicated to specific groups — like 50 units for unhoused people 55 and older or 15 units for homeless individuals with substance use disorders or mental illnesses — by 2027. Supportive housing units like these are meant to be affordable units packaged with wraparound supports that are intended to help tenants maintain consistent housing.

Tryanski said individual projects have their own unique audiences and potential funding sources, often including a mix of county or city funds, support from private foundations and federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s “complex and challenging” work that can seem overwhelming if all you see are the dollar signs attached, he said.

“Each project has its own character — that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned through this process,” Tryanski told the Journal-World. “And as you make a commitment to ‘We think this is a good project to invest in,’ once that commitment is made, then you can find more resources and ways to fund and develop that.”

It’s a process that’s “in evolution” as local partner agencies navigate how they can best utilize their expertise and contribute to a sustainable funding model, Tryanski said. But it’s also a process with some clear targets in terms of whom these units need to serve and what it’ll cost in capital and investments to bring them online.

Tryanski pointed to the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County as one example of how that process of “braiding” funding looks when it’s done right. The campus, located just northeast of LMH Health, includes two facilities run by Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center — the Treatment and Recovery Center, which comprises a front-of-house urgent care unit and an observation and stabilization unit for patient holds of up to three days, and a 12-bed supportive group housing facility called Transitions. The third piece of the campus is The Cottages at Green Lake, another supportive housing facility operated by the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.

Tryanski said the county found success in leveraging funding from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services for that project, which ultimately required a much lower share of financial support from the county than first projected.

“Operating and service costs are also significant, and it’s a daunting challenge to figure out how to put that in place, but we can get there,” Tryanski said. “The recovery campus is proof of concept that we can make dramatic steps forward if we’ve got clarity and vision and partners who are clear on what their commitment is.”

Assistant Douglas County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur, who also spoke to the Journal-World about the supportive housing portion of the plan, said it’s the job of the county and the city to not only figure out a way to “fix” the problem of chronic homelessness but also how to fund it all. Accomplishing that right away is not possible or realistic, Jolicoeur said, which means it’s important that the city and county make their case to potential partners like private foundations and the federal government.

“We also know that our county commissioners have indicated that they want to be mindful of a good amount of our taxpayers that feel that it is already too expensive to live in this community, and we need to be mindful of the property tax implications on existing homeowners and how that’s passed on even to renters to further complicate the situation,” Jolicoeur said. “… But in the end, we think there’s a cost savings for everybody, and that’s the overall health of the community.”

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The concept of “funding braids” is also a key strategy for the affordable housing goal area, which alone calls for $218,268,351 in spending. The vast majority of that spending — $204 million — is targeted toward grant subsidies for new development or rehabilitating existing properties into affordable housing, at an estimated $120,000 subsidy per unit.

Lea Roselyn, the City of Lawrence’s affordable housing administrator, was one of the people who spoke to the Journal-World about this section of the plan, which calls for adding 1,700 units of affordable housing by 2028. Roselyn told the Journal-World that it’s important to remember that the plan represents the whole county, so not all of those units — or the funding it’ll take to support them — will be coming through the City of Lawrence.

Like the projects Tryanski described, Roselyn said local affordable housing projects typically pair local funding from sources like Lawrence’s dedicated Affordable Housing Trust Fund with federal dollars from HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships and Community Development Block Grant programs.

And there are additional untapped sources not previously utilized in Lawrence and Douglas County that could make a difference, Roselyn said, like another HUD grant through the federal Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program. Another example at the state level would be expanded resources through the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation’s Moderate Income Housing grant program. Roselyn said previously, only rural communities could participate in the program, but a recent change meant Lawrence has become eligible.

“Part of it also is, really, sending a signal flare that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation and that we need all members of the community involved,” Roselyn said. “That includes local foundations, local philanthropists, local investors and businesses who we hope to engage as a part of the solution and bring on as partners and develop some really innovative and creative public-private partnerships, as well.”

On top of that, Gallal Obeid, vice president of program operations at the Housing Authority, told the Journal-World that there are also agencies like Tenants to Homeowners, Habitat for Humanity and others that already are working to add affordable housing — and bringing their own funding to the table.

The Housing Authority is working on one example of the types of projects that may make a dent in that goal of 1,700 affordable housing units. Obeid said the agency continues to work on a 32-unit expansion at Clinton Place Apartments, an existing affordable housing development for senior citizens, which is funded through a combination of the agency’s reserve funds and $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the county.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum from different organizations, and that’s what’s going to make this very possible for us to at least make headway,” Obeid said.

But the group made it clear that working toward that goal won’t mean only building new housing. Some units could be rehabilitated or sold into Tenants to Homeowners’ community land trust portfolio, keeping them permanently affordable.

Obeid said housing vouchers through HUD are yet another way to effectively create more affordable housing opportunities. The “A Place for Everyone” plan says that as of a 2018 housing market analysis, there were 5,200 cost-burdened renters in Lawrence.

Policy work is another important part of the affordable housing section of the plan, like one strategy budgeted at an estimated $2,875,851 to establish tenants’ right to legal representation when facing eviction. An ordinance approved in early 2023 protecting tenants from discrimination based on their source of income is another example that Obeid said has resulted in people using housing vouchers at a higher rate.

“It is an upstream solution to have the policy work that we have in this plan present there,” Gabi Sprague, the housing and human services program manager for the county, told the Journal-World. “The way that the group came about that was doing research in other communities; what works in other communities to give people that agency and those upstream solutions?”

-This story is part of a series focused on “A Place for Everyone,” the City of Lawrence and Douglas County’s joint plan to eliminate chronic homelessness. Future stories in this series will focus on other branches of the plan dedicated to emergency housing and systems.


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