By Jim Misunas
LARNED — State Senator Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, has targeted increased rural housing opportunities as one of his hot topics. Schmidt has visited with Pawnee County officials and Larned State Hospital personnel about housing improvements as a means of attracting job seekers.
A meeting targeting rural housing development for western Kansas is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5 at the Ellis County Welcome Center, 2700 Vine. Anyone interested in attending should call Aaron White, Ellis County Coalition Director, (785) 628-3102.
Courtland Holman, director of the Larned Chamber of Commerce and Pawnee County Economic Development Commission, said Larned lacks sufficient rental housing and the lending requirements have limited home ownership. Multiple counties will be represented.
“Housing is a very important issue that has become a hot topic has all rural areas,” Holman said. “Larned does not have proper rental housing.”
The Larned Dream Homes Affordable Housing Project has built six affordable family houses. The city of Larned purchased the properties and the Larned Housing Authority used tax credits to assist with the project. Mesner Development Company, Central City, Neb., performed the application process and financing work. Mesner has done work with Housing Opportunities, Inc., Great Bend, for projects in Barton and Pawnee counties.
Holman serves on the HOI board.
Daniel J. Steffen, Kansas Department of Commerce business development, said the meeting should draw a wide range of rural-based community leaders.
“The biggest frustration with so many different economic development groups is finding wage appropriate housing,” he said. “Lack of suitable housing is the biggest detriment to industries locating in rural areas.”
Steffen said Hays, a college town with Fort Hays State University, lacks wage appropriate housing for rentals and home owners.
White, Ellis County Coalition Director, has talked with Matt Gillem of the Overland Property Group out of Topeka, which has worked on numerous housing projects throughout western Kansas.
“Mr. Gillem has expressed an interest in coming to such a meeting, along with his supervisor Brett Johnson, to discuss developing market rate housing in western Kansas, as well as to define specific reasons why developers hesitate to build and what they would find useful as an incentive to attract investment in “Market Rate” / “Wage Appropriate” housing.
James Foster and White have met with Sen. Schmidt, as well as Dennis Mesa, director of the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC). Justin Pike and other KHRC personnel.
White is aware of several housing related situations that have affected businesses.
In Quinter, Westwind Wood Specialties had to ship a large portion of their production to their Indiana facility, due to a lack of wage appropriate housing availability to meet the housing needs of their labor supply when they are able to recruit and hire additional employees. Formation Plastics is looking at an expansion in operations, but concerned about the same issue in meeting their labor needs.