Housing Authority director tackles tough topic during ‘working lunch’

September 18, 2013 by

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In just over half an hour, Tammy Britt explained many of the challenges of Concordia’s housing market to more than 50 community members at Wednesday’s Community Needs Forum “working lunch.”

But, the director of the city’s Housing Authority conceded, explanations come easier than solutions.

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Britt, who has served as director for seven years, explained that the city of Concordia has 2,156 active residential water meters — a statistic that approximates the number of single-family homes.

Then there are multi-family units: 126 low-income subsidized apartments, 20 or so apartments that are low-income “tax credit” units (meaning the rent is subsidized through a tax credit to the owners) and 60 or so rental apartments. There are also an estimated 60 rental houses. Plus there are what Britt termed “basement apartments” that may or may not meet the legal requirements for a residential unit. And there are group homes and nursing homes that serve as permanent residences.

Britt said one of the biggest issues needed is education, for both landlords and tenants. She said she and Bruno Rehbein, building inspector for the city of Concordia, would like to see workshops for landlords that include information on fair housing laws, the importance of leases and managing consistent expectations.

“We’d like to have the Kansas Landlord Handbook in the hands of every landlord,” she said.

She also noted that she and Rehbein have discussed requiring some sort of licensing for landlords. “Nothing expensive,” she added, “but just something to make sure they have the information they need.”

For tenants, she would like to see education focused on the Kansas Landlord Tenant Act, fair housing requirements, the importance of communication, and why leases and deposits are important.

With that kind of education on both sides of the equation, she said, landlords could limit the turnover in their rental properties, which would in turn help make rentals a profitable investment.

But the biggest issue Britt sees in Concordia is not low-income housing. Rather, it is the limited availability of housing for moderate-income families, either for rent or to buy.

She noted that of the houses currently listed for sale in Concordia, about 20 are priced from $50,000 to $70,000. “The rest are $130,000 and on up,” she said, making them too expensive for young growing families.

“It’s an economic development issue,” said Patrick Sieben, a regular participant in the Community Needs Forums. “To attract business and people to Concordia, we need to have housing available. And if there aren’t homes for them to rent or buy, they won’t come here.”

Britt also noted that there are 102 vacant houses within the city limits. These are unoccupied for a variety of reasons — a parent may have died and the children don’t want to sell yet, the owner may live out of the area and not be willing to bother with it, the building may require expensive updating or repair, or any number of other explanations.

But for whatever reason, they are houses that could be occupied and are not.

She offered three broad-cased solutions to address at least some of the issues with Concordia’s housing market:

First, a rotating loan fund for home improvements, to help homeowners with needed updating and repairs.

Second, a program to assistant with tenant education, particularly aimed at people who need consistent assistance with budgeting, preventative home maintenance and the like.

Third, recruiting Habitat for Humanity to come to Concordia to build new family homes.

Also on the agenda at Wednesday’s working lunch were three brief updates:

• The Concordia Year of Peace Committee is co-sponsoring a program to mark the International Day of Peace on Sunday, Sept. 22. The keynote speaker will be Gerald Gillespie from Kansas Wesleyan University, and the program is scheduled from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Motherhouse. The public is encouraged to attend. Other sponsors are Pax Christi Salina and the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Justice and Peace Center.

•  “Hands Across Our Community,” a program that began in February with Christina Brodie as its coordinator, is in the middle of its second 13-week series of workshops. The goal of Hands Across is to pair people who are struggling financially but want to become self-sufficient with “community coaches” who will take part in the program with them and be there for encouragement and advice. Brodie is recruiting families and mentors for the third series, set to begin in October. She can be reached at cbrodie@csjkansas.org or 275-2101.

• Christmas Tree Lane, a fundraiser for local nonprofit organizations, will be held at the Motherhouse Friday, Dec. 6. For information, contact Holly Brown at hbrown@csjkansas.org or 243-2113, ext. 1221.

Wednesday’s session was the 23rd gathering of the Community Needs Forum, which grew out of informal lunches with the Sisters of St. Joseph in the fall of 2008. In addition to identifying what participants see as the greatest needs in the community, the meetings have established smaller groups to seek solutions. The quarterly “working lunches” provide an opportunity for updates on projects and a clearinghouse for new ideas.

The next working lunch will be Wednesday, Dec. 11, and everyone is invited to attend.

Comments

One Response to “Housing Authority director tackles tough topic during ‘working lunch’”

  1. maryglenngonzalez on September 18th, 2013 3:24 pm

    Ok, Maybe I am not the brightest crayon the box yet I have to wonder, if there are 120 vacant homes, why have Habitat fro Humanity build more homes?

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