We’ve all heard the saying, “a little goes a long way.” For 57 families in a six-city area, the saying rings true, says Vicky Dayton of Housing Opportunities Inc. The non-profit housing solutions company builds affordable housing through the use of federal and state grants. Since 1999, over $40 million in federal and state awards have been awarded, but it almost didn’t happen, Dayton said.
In 1999, just as Hoisington Opportunities Inc. was poised to begin its first project, Ellinwood’s The Oaks, their developer died, leaving the fledgling community housing development organization (CHODO) wondering how it would even keep its lights on.
“We were just starting out, with no projects underway,” Dayton said. “Still there was rent, utilities, and the other operational costs needed to keep the office open.” Dayton turned to the Ellinwood City Manager Mel Waite, explaining the predicament HOI was in. The City of Ellinwood had faith in the company, and put up a small investment of $3,600, which allowed HOI to pay its office expenses for three months.
With this show of support, she was able to meet with Cathy Mesner of Mesner Development who also knew their situation. They had no other funds at the time, but she extended the developer fees at the beginning of the project, instead of at the end as is typically done. They were able to hire a new developer, and the project was once again on track.
The Oaks was HOI’s proving ground, and with it successfully completed, the company went on to build several more projects, Dayton said. Their success positioned them to receive federal and state awards year after year, amounting to over $40 million. A little over half of this came from housing tax credits. This has allowed them to build 15 rental properties, 57 home-ownership homes, and two Moderate Income Housing Awards for down-payment and closing assistance for new housing and the development of lots and infrastructure.
The rental properties are in Ellinwood, Great Bend, Larned, Hoisington, Lyons and Sterling and are comprised of 172 rental apartments for seniors and 20 single family homes. HOI participated in these properties as General Contractor, Managing Member and General Partner, Owner, the Management Company and maintenance provider. The two Moderate Income Housing Grant applications were written by HOI for Sterling and Great Bend.
On the homeownership side HOI, as General Contractor, assisted 57 families, 54 in Great Bend and 3 in Larned, between 2000 and 2006 build and own their homes in the USDA Rural Development Self-Help Housing Program. All 57 families put in over 700 hours of construction time in their homes with their low interest rate mortgage being based on their income.
“This story is fascinating,” Dayton said. “Every time I’ve spoken to clubs, organizations, cities and counties they are amazed at how much of an impact Ellinwood’s $3,600 has had in our local economic growth.”
In recent years, it’s become more difficult for CHODOs to stay afloat because regulations have increased at the same time that funds have decreased.
“In 2008, when the national economy tanked, funding rounds went from two each year to one,” Dayton said. “They’ve remained there.”
That means every round is twice as valuable to CHODOs, and a number have subsequently vanished in the past three years. On top of this, required participation from cities has increased, making companies like HOI with years of success behind them the go-to for projects like these.
Coming full circle
Ellinwood earlier this year heard from Jason Maddox, president of MACO Development Co., LLC of Clarkson, Mo., who was there to garner support for a purchasing and renovating the Ellinwood Heights Apartments, provided they are successful in receiving a Low-Income Housing Tax Credits through the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.
Then, in March, both Jason Joiner of Joiner Construction and Dayton appeared before the Ellinwood City Council to make the case for the city to conduct a market study for housing. Both developers have worked together in the past and are interested in securing funding through the state’s Moderate Income Housing Program (MIH) in order to bring additional moderate income housing to the city.
Dayton, on behalf of HOI, said they would like to partner with Ellinwood to achieve whatever that market study says they need. Coming back to Ellinwood, she said, would be coming full circle to where they started.
“Years ago, before they had done anything, it was hard to get people to understand what it is we do,” she said. “Now we have people who have told us they will move back to our area when they retire simply because they know how well managed and well maintained our properties are.”
They have Ellinwood’s small investment they made so many years ago to thank for this she said.