By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Finding the right type of housing is a personal choice. Most people prefer to live close to their chosen jobs.
But for some of the largest employers in the Pawnee County, prospective employees at the Larned State Hospital complex, USD 495 or Pawnee Valley Community Hospital as examples, sometimes options can be somewhat limited.
The local housing and rental issue question was raised when SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki wondered why it has been difficult to hire and retain employees at the Larned State Hospital complex.
“We’d be happy to visit with the lending community and see if there’s anything we can do to help them,” Siedlecki said.
Courtland Holman, Chamber of Commerce director who doubles as Pawnee Economic Development director, said he receives inquiries about available rental properties on a daily basis. Holman keeps an active database of available houses, apartments and mobile homes available in Larned with contact phone numbers. Anyone can call the Larned Chamber (620) 285-6916 to add a listing.
“We all hear the same thing, that there is a lack of rental properties. If you’re a developer, I believe Larned offers a terrific opportunity,” Holman said.
Holman is confident a housing development that would feature duplexes or an apartment complex would have a ready-made market. He said successful complexes have offered amenities such as an on-site playground area, a common-room work area, gardening and a bicycle rack.
“We have some available property identified for development and infrastructure is there already,” Holman said. “If you make it an attraction, there would definitely be people interested.”
Holman said many prospective employees might lean toward rentals over home ownership, especially in the short term.
Many employees also choose to commute as they prefer to reside outside Pawnee County. Forty percent of the staff employed at all three state facilities commute from outside Pawnee County. Fort Larned USD 495 is also a major employer in Pawnee County.
“Rental properties can save money over a house payment and people are looking for a good deal,” Holman said. “Sometimes, it is not affordable to buy a house.”
State Senator Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, said most of the counties he represents tell a similar tale of lack of housing. He said some programs that carry incentives or tax credits are tied to lower income residents.
Local realtors report more than 90 properties are available in Pawnee County, ranging from $20,000 to $379,900.
Reep Real Estate has 10 houses listed ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 and 10 properties being advertised at more than $100,000. Clock Realty has five listings over $100,000, including the $379,900 property in the 600 block of E. 14th.
“There’s plenty of real estate here,” said Rita Kurtz, real estate broker for Carr Auction & Realty. “But people want something that suits them.”
Carr Auction & Real Estate has five properties listed on its website at more than $100,000. One house is available for $28,000. Kurtz also owns and manages some rental properties, which gives her good perspective on the housing situation.
There are plenty of reasons why someone would prefer a rental property over a house.
Kurtz said a tightening lending market has made it harder for prospective homeowners to qualify for a home loan. Kurtz said a down payment can range from 3 to 20 percent, depending on the financial situation.
Kurtz said some prospective employees want to know for sure they are staying in the local community before they purchase a home.
Suitable rental properties generally range from $350 to $650 per month, but two four-bedroom properties are currently listed for $775 and $800 rent per month in Larned.
“There are times where there is land tied to a property that will raise the rental price,” Kurtz said.
Santa Fe Trail Apartments offers income-structured rent. Four Seasons is limited to those 62 and older or those with disabilities. Trails West Apartments offers one and two bedroom units.