When you purchase a $20 item in Lawrence next April, know that one penny will be going to much needed affordable housing in the community. And in case you need a refresher course on how the sales tax money could be spent through March of 2029, just ask Shannon Oury (Executive Director of Lawrence/Douglas County Housing Authority), Mathew Fauk (Manager of the Bert Nash Housing Program), Lisa Larsen (City Commissioner) and Rebecca Buford (Executive Director of Lawrence Community Housing Trust) who served as moderator. They were the League’s special guests at the May 17 Affordable Housing Hot Topic at Central United Methodist Church.
How to define “affordable housing”? What sort of affordable housing is available in Lawrence? What is being planned to increase the amount in the next two years? These were the first questions posed by Buford. The definition of affordable housingvaries. Federal guidelines, used by the city, use income amounts for various family sizes, such as less than $16,650 for a single person for housing and utilities. Another definition is housing cost for anyone spending more than 30% of income on housing. In Lawrence, 37% of population are considered cost-burdened and 22% are considered severely burdened, with over 50% of income going to housing.
The number of affordable housing units in Lawrence is estimated at about 2000, however the city doesn’t keep track of this. The average sales price of a house in Lawrence is $213,000; the first timeownership market number is also not available.
Plans for the next two years are to build 10 permanent housing units and one transitional 12-bedroom home, that would provide supportive services along with the housing. Integrated community living is now the service model. Budget prioritization case management is critical; studies have shown that it is less expensive by two-thirds to support responsible home ownership than pay costs of emergency rooms, rehabilitation, jails, hospitals, etc. that go with homelessness.
A current method of supporting the building of affordable housing is to provide tax credits to builders. The rules for this are complicated; the housing must remain affordable for 30 years. Qualifications to receive affordable housing include income, citizenship, kinds of criminal conviction, and other history. Mathew Fauk said the greatest challenge is to balance the needs of both the service providers and the housing providers. Fauk also added that he is one of only three staff members at Bert Nash who work with more than 500 homeless cases a year.
Shannon Oury reported three groups are served by the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority (LDCHA). One third is seniors who appreciate the opportunity to live independently with dignity. Another third is the disabled: LDCHA has only 20 fully accessible units and there is a three year waiting list. The last third is families, not elderly or disabled, including many children.
In a comment from the audience, marci francisco challenged Justice Matters members who own rental property, to make the commitment and do their part by offering some affordable housing.
When asked for a “wish list” for affordable housing, Fauk wanted 1000 units requiring less than $200 a month. Lisa Larsen asked for “world peace”, causing audience laughter, and said she was proud of those who are seeking answers to the problem. Moderator Rebecca Buford is hoping that two houses may be built on a single lot.
For League history buffs, it will be no surprise that we will be celebrating in July the 50th anniversary of the Lawrence Housing Authority which was created as a result of the 1968 League of Women Voters’ Study on Housing in Lawrence.