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.
Mickey Wolard and Drew VonEhrenkrook discussed the work of the local Propel Foundation. Propel provides programs and curriculum to help build sustainable communities in Uganda centered around education.
Founded in 2014, Propel’s vision is to “ignite passionate and productive education among teachers, community members, and volunteers and inspire quality learning among all children and adults. From teacher trainings to community development and elder care, the Propel Foundation’s main focus is to help create sustainable communities centered on academics and well being.”
Dr. Sherrie Vaughn, the new Executive Director for NAMI in Kansas, knows first hand about the heartbreak of mental illness.
Sherrie told the story of her daughter who struggles with psychosis. In her early teens, Sherrie’s daughter reached a point where she believed all food and drink were contaminated. Because she refused all nourishment and liquids, she was eventually hosptialized. Near death, she finally admitted she needed help and found psychological services as well as medical treatment. Now 18 years old, Sherrie’s daughter has gained self-awareness and coping skills. Currently, she is living on her own and navigating support systems in a new community.
NAMI has thirteen affiliates in Kansas, including one in Lawrence. The non-profit offers an array of services to individuals and to families–all at no cost. There is no need to wait for a referral. Funding for NAMI programming comes from a diverse set of foundations, grants, donors, and some state monies.
The Basics Education Program, for example, is open to parents and caregivers of minor children who are experiencing mental health challenges. Peer support groups can be found through the agency as well as in churches and on campuses.
Erin Schmidt, coordinator for the initiative, explains that homeowners already trust Habitat for Humanity to give them dependable and affordable work and interest-free loans. The aim of the new program is to extend that reputation to help senior homeowners in Douglas and Jefferson Counties continue to live in their own homes safely and independently for as many years as possible.
The “Aging in Place” program will tackle external and relatively small home repairs and improvements. Applicants may need ramps; handrails; removal of trip/fall hazards; house painting; porch repair; gutter/soffit repair; siding repair; and/or minor roof repair. It is not an emergency service.
To be qualified for “Aging in Place,” a homeowner must be age 55 or older, live in the home to be repaired, and have income less than 80% of the median household income ($4,079/month). The average applicant is 70 years old, has 44% of the median income, and pays $277 for materials. Repayment for materials costs is based on a sliding scale, likely in the form of interest-free loans for materials. There is no labor cost, as the work is done by volunteers.
As with other Habitat for Humanity programs, recipients are expected to invest in the work. For seniors, this investment will likely be in “social equity,” depending on what they are able to contribute. They may write thank you notes, bake cookies for workers, or help others who live in the neighborhood.
Jerry Jost explained that the Kansas Land Trust (KLT) has been protecting land and water in Kansas for 29 years. During that time, KLT has permanently conserved 74 properties equaling nearly 39,000 acres.
The KLT works to protect and preserve land of ecological, agricultural, scenic, historic, or recreational significance in Kansas. Thus, the protected acres may be virgin prairie, prime farmland, stream banks, or woodland. Nearly 30,000 acres of land in the Flint Hills falls within KLT protection. Six properties preserve threatened species. Protected property may or may not allow public access.
When property owners place land into the trust, they retain ownership, but create conservation easements.The easements are voluntary arrangements in which the owner gives up certain options for using the land in exchange for the protection of the land in perpetuity . Thus, they also end up contributing some portion of the equity in the property to the Kansas Land Trust. Each trust is negotiated individually.