Housing assessment

A common theme in the housing assessment announced Wednesday was that there is a demand in Dickinson County cities for affordable homes and rentals.

Amy Haase, with RGP Planning and Design which drafted the assessment, said to attract people to a city, there needs to be housing. Based on a half percent population growth, she suggested 88 new homes and rentals over the next 10 years.

The best way to provide that new housing and rentals is a non-profit development organization to fill in the gaps the private sector can’t provide.

“Communities have got to come together,” she said. “Housing partnerships will be essential as we move forward. There might be housing partnership that happen on a county-wide level and there might partnerships that happen within communities.”

Abilene City Commissioner Dee Marshall who was among the 35 people that attended the meeting at the Civic Center questioned both the percentage of population growth and the number of new housing needed.

“I would like to know where she is going to get the investors to do that,” Marshall said after the assessment announcement.

Asked to give an example of such a non-profit, Haase pointed to Dodge City/Ford County Development Corporation.

Consortium

A consortium of lenders can provide interim financing and other support to development efforts and encourage economies of scale, according to the report.

She said infrastructure and building costs have continued to increase.

“And you are in a market with a very low absorption rate. It’s really hard to go out and say ‘I’m going to put in a 20-lot subdivision and it’s going to take 20 years to absorb those lots,’” she said. “That’s not an investment that most people in the private sector want to do. It’s just not an option for the private market to do anymore.”

The non-profit partnership could find ways to share this risk.

In Dodge City, a housing coordinator was hired in 2009 and began researching programs and implementing many educational programs for financial institutions, residents and public officials (see chart).

Population

The housing assessment showed that since 2010, population has mostly dropped: Abilene from 6,844 to 6,487; Chapman from 1,393 to 1,365; and Herington from 2,526 to 2,251. Solomon gained one person: 1,095 to 1,096.

Yet Haase based the housing assessment of a growth of a half percent for Abilene and Chapman and a quarter percent for Herington and Solomon.

“What we heard in the community is, there are things that we want to do to lay the groundwork to reverse that,” she said of declining population.

She said that after the recession it was not unusual to see population loss but she said that is reversing.

“We also heard from a number of employers that there are jobs to fill. We have had some loss in the last seven years, but the potential is there to attract people to fill those jobs.”

She said, “Dickinson County also has an aging population. Those people are leaving their jobs but not leaving their homes.”

“We have to not only fill their job but to provide them a house to live in,” Haase said. “That’s not the whole market. We want to fill those jobs. If we have job expansion, we have to have houses to house those individuals.”

Highland

She said the defunct Highland development is a “significant resource that needs to be addressed.”

Despite efforts by the Land Bank to sell the land and recoup some of the infrastructure expense, there has been no interest in the land located in northwest Abilene for residential housing.

Marshall said all of the ideas for Highland development suggested in the assessment have been tried.

“And it has been a bust,” she said.

“If we want to grow, if we want to have an aspiration to fill jobs and have some growth, than these are some of the things we are going to have to put into place to be competitive in the market,” Haase said. “We have been in a market where we have seen a population loss. We don’t want that to continue to happen. What do we need to do?

“We need to be investing in our existing houses. Somebody isn’t going to move into a house where the house across the street is falling apart,” Haase said.

She was asked how to get the funds to renovate existing property.

“That is where we might have to look to a non-profit development corporation that is going to come in and say ‘As a community we’re willing to pool some funds for a non-profit to work in a market where the for-profit community can’t make money. We have a number of areas where the for-profit can’t make money.”

Rentals

Marshall said there are a lot of rental properties available in Abilene.

“We need some incentive to get landlords to clean them up and quit renting out slums,” Marshall said. “If only we could get people to have that mindset; clean, decent, affordable housing.”

She said if the median income in this town is $47,000 people, can’t afford new homes.

“That is very low,” she said. “We need affordable rentals.”

Marshall said the assessment did address the need for rental housing as well.

“I think that is where our focus should be,” she said.

The housing assessment was funded by the Dickinson County Economic Development Corporation and partners on this project: Westar Energy through their Local Partner Program Fund, North Central Kansas Community Network and its affiliate North Central Regional Planning Commission as a funding source using its Rural Business Development Tax Credit Initiative program, the Community Foundation of Dickinson County, and Dickinson County.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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