Ron Gaches, Chair of the City’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board, outlined the dilemmas of providing affordable housing in Lawrence. A retired lobbyist and a professional in government relations, media, corporate communications, and association management, Gaches is well prepared to be a spokesman on this complex topic.
A 2018 housing study by BBC Research and Consulting identified Lawrence needs: affordable rentals, affordable homes to buy, and homes that are accessible. One in 4 homeowners and 6 in 10 renters are “burdened” by spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Gaches declared that Lawrence needs to reshape policies in order to change the trend line. He believes that if someone works here, they should be able to live here.
The affordable housing issue has a thirty-year history in Lawrence. Following a series of study groups on homelessness and housing, the City Commission established the Affordable Housing Advisory Board in 2015. Since its formation, the Board has researched funding options for affordable housing. In recent years, Lawrence residents approved a sales tax that is expected to generate over $350,000 per year over five years, placing $1.25 million per year into a trust fund to support affordable housing initiatives. Cash flow is beginning now.
The Advisory Board has defined on-going as well as short-term goals. They can be read on the Board’s website. While the group is pleased that Lawrence’s Plan 2040 encourages affordable housing initiatives, there are distinct barriers/challenges to address: a shortage of lots for building new structures; limited infill options; few new housing starts; and growth that continues to occur in the more expensive neighborhoods west of Iowa Street.