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Grant could help bring housing to Zarah
Downtown landmark might be site of affordable apartments
hotel  zarah grant
The Great Bend City Council Monday night approved applying for a Moderate Income Housing Grant at the request of Great Bend Economic Development Inc. to develop affordable housing in downtown Great Bend’s Zarah Hotel building. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Here are some statistics from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation:

• 99% of Kansas’ incorporated cities have fewer than 60,000 residents. These communities comprise about 68% of the state’s population.

• One in eight Kansans live at or below the federal poverty level.

• 44% of single mothers with children under the age of five live at or below the federal poverty level.

• Only 25.5% of Kansans earning less than $25,000 own their own home. 

At the request of Great Bend Economic Development Inc. to develop affordable housing in downtown Great Bend’s landmark Hotel Zarah building, the Great Bend City Council Monday night will consider applying for a Moderate Income Housing Grant through the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. 

GBED is proposing the city apply for the grant on its behalf, GBED President Sara Hayden said. GBED is eying these funds to be used towards the renovations in the multi-story red-brick Zarah at Main and Lakin. 

She stressed that this grant does not require the city to kick in any funding to proceed. “These are just funds that would otherwise go to another community,” she said.

“We selected this building because of the number of units that will be able to be constructed,” she said. The purpose of this grant is to put more funds into a housing project to allow the owner to then rent the units for a lesser amount. 

“GBED recognizes this grant as an opportunity to welcome more funds into our community to contribute to our housing obstacles and allow for nicer housing options to be available at an affordable cost,” she said. 

According to the KHRC, cities and counties with populations fewer than 60,000 are eligible to apply. For maximum statewide impact, they are limiting grants or loans to a maximum of $400,000 per awardee. 

Requests for Proposals are released each summer, with applications due to KHRC in mid-October.

A long-awaited project

“It has been on our agenda since we bought the building,” said Sheryl Cheely of the downtown development initiative MyTown’s purchase of the Zarah 13 years ago. Long thought too costly, city code changes, water system upgrades and now this make it feasible.

“I think its going to go over well,” Cheely said. “I’m excited about it. We’re all excited about it. It is a great opportunity.”

This will still be a “down-to-the-studs” renovation, she said. But, local contractor Mark Bitter, a part of MyTown, “has a great vision for this.”

Now, they are ready to get started.

“This is the only project this year that would apply to the grant due to the number of units able to be built,” Hayden said. “We plan to continue to apply for this grant each year as more housing projects move forward.”

Program details

The Moderate Income Housing program serves the needs of moderate-income households that typically don’t qualify for federal housing  assistance, according to information from the KHRC. MIH grants and/or loans are awarded to cities and counties for down payment assistance or to develop multi-family rental units, single-family for-purchase homes and infrastructure. 

“Housing is the silent crisis that affects all of Kansas,” KHRC’s website notes. “But shortages of safe, affordable housing have the greatest impact on our rural communities.”

In smaller communities across Kansas, the lack of housing is creating challenges in attracting and retaining residents, according to the KHRC. While employment  opportunities are plentiful in many communities, housing options are not.

This is not lost on local officials.

Earlier this year, GBED received the results from a housing study that showed that building activity over the last six years has not been enough to support growth. A housing task force has been formed which has several initiatives in the works.

Also, GBED is behind the effort to renovate downtown lofts  in Great Bend as a way to help provide more housing.

The KHRC is a Topeka-based nonprofit, public corporation that serves as the primary administrator of federal housing programs for the state of Kansas.