By Jim Misunas
LARNED — State Senator Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, said raising awareness for rural housing needs is a top priority. Schmidt has visited with Pawnee County officials and Larned State Hospital personnel how improved housing will help retain and attract job seekers.
A meeting targeting rural housing development for western Kansas is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Ellis County Welcome Center, 2700 Vine. Anyone interested in attending should call Aaron White, Ellis County Coalition Director, (785) 628-3102.
“Housing has jumped to the front as one of the key issues concerning economic development for our part of rural Kansas and I expect it is an issue in most rural areas of the state,” Schmidt said. “We are on the right track to address this. Population won’t improve if we don’t have enough housing available.”
Courtland Holman, director of the Larned Chamber of Commerce and Pawnee County Economic Development Commission, agrees that Larned lacks sufficient rental housing and the lending requirements have limited home ownership.
Schmidt has battled to keep the 36th District in redistricting hearings and hopes to give his area two more years to add business and population before the next redistricting round.
Schmidt sees several issues we should discuss concerning housing needs:
“We need available rentals to house the immediate needs of workers and their families who are the first to arrive for a business entity starting or expanding in a community;
“We also need wage appropriate housing for those families who are willing to settle into the communities and would rather not commute from the nearest larger town or who are ready to buy or build a house to live in the community where they work.
“We should consider renovation, restoration, and conversion of available space we already have in our communities. A point was made this week that we could convert the space above our businesses in the downtown areas as well as other properties that can be used for housing. Maybe we can find some assistance for that task.
“If we agree on the above bullets then we need to determine the actual requirements in each community. I believe this is the first step in our efforts……stating a requirement.
Schmidt said housing numbers need to be evaluated as a starting point. For example, a requirement for 10 units across 10 to 15 communities would equate to a requirement of 100 to 150 total units.
Schmidt said he would expect that would attract a lot more interest than if each community was listed separately.
• How many in each community?
• What size and configuration?
• At what price?
• Does the community provide land, lots or infrastructure?
“If we can gather the requirements across multiple communities, we may be able to generate more interest from developers, builders, investors, grants, and manufacturers,” Schmidt said. “We will have a better chance to gain the attention of those in Topeka or Washington who may be able to support our efforts.
Schmidt said enticing developers, builders, manufacturers and housing sales people to place units in rural communities for advertisement and eventual sale is a win-win possibility.
“They might be surprised how many would sell if they are placed right in the communities,” he said. “I encourage your continued discussion and gathering of facts. I am willing to represent you and support your efforts here in Topeka in whatever way I can. I understand how critical this is to our economic development because I was that in community-after-community.”