Affordable housing board asks whether portion of sales tax revenue should fund housing vouchers, other social services

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board is asking whether part of the money from the city’s affordable housing sales tax should be earmarked for social services such as housing vouchers.

The board had the discussion at its meeting Monday, following its most recent round of funding. None of the funding, which was the first to use dollars generated from a citywide sales tax for affordable housing efforts, went to fund social services. A few board members asked whether the board should divide the approximately $1 million of annual affordable housing funding into two pots, one for construction or renovation projects and one for social services.

Board member Shannon Oury, who represents the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, said she thought it was difficult for the board to compare building projects to service or voucher projects. Oury suggested the board consider creating separate buckets of funding, which could be put back toward the general pool if no applications were received for those categories.

“So that we’re not trying to compare apples to oranges and oranges to pears, right?” Oury said. “And trying to figure out how to get a matrix score for those, and then it’s hard to figure out how they compare to one another.”

Of the seven funding applications the board reviewed this fall, three asked for money for social services or vouchers, but none of those applicants were awarded any funding. Specifically, the Lawrence Community Shelter requested funding for a rental assistance voucher program and Tenants to Homeowners and Lawrence Habitat for Humanity both requested funding for programs that makes home repairs for low-income seniors. Following its scoring process, the board recommended two building projects that were later approved by the City Commission.

Board Chair Ron Gaches, who represents the chamber of commerce, said that he agreed with Oury. He said he thought the matrix that the board uses to score and ultimately recommend projects does not end up representing the relative value of all the program and project applications.

Board member Edith Guffey also agreed that it was an apples to oranges comparison. Guffey said there will always be social service needs and asked whether the board might consider dividing the funding into two pools of money, one for capital projects and the other for social services. However, Guffey said that led her to consider the intent of the citywide sales tax vote, and whether voters intended that money for permanent housing or housing assistance.

Gaches responded that he’d also considered that, and that the night before he’d actually printed off the sales tax ballot language and the brochure distributed by the city ahead of the 2017 election.

The ballot language — which is the only legally binding language — stated that the sales tax would go toward “providing and improving the quality, availability, and affordability of housing in Lawrence; acquiring land for future affordable housing units; investing in private/public partnerships for the provision of affordable housing; and such other related affordable housing purposes as may be in the best interest of the City.” The accompanying brochure notes that the money could also be spent “providing support services aimed at maintaining stable housing for those in need.”

Gaches noted the ballot language was broad and that though the brochure referenced social services as a potential way to spend the money, that some city commissioners have expressed a preference toward permanent, affordable housing.

“I think it’s very appropriate for us to have this discussion of, are we going to fund services?” Gaches said. “If yes, do we want to identify just a portion of our revenue sources?”

Lawrence voters approved the sales tax in 2017, which is expected to provide about $1 million annually to the city’s affordable housing fund for the next 10 years. There is also $350,000 currently allocated toward the affordable housing fund from the city’s general fund.

Board member Thomas Howe, who represents the board of realtors, said that he thought the board needed to create a clear framework for how it allocates money for social services before it opened another funding application.

The board ultimately agreed that it would like to continue the discussion and come up with such a framework. The board also agreed it would like to arrange a joint meeting with the City Commission to discuss the framework. A date for that joint meeting has not yet been set.


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