The key findings revealed by the comprehensive statewide housing study indicate the state needs to:
• Prioritize middle income housing.
• Diversify housing stock to meet local needs.
• Extend housing security.
• Reinvest in older housing stock, including vacant units.
• Address the building trades labor shortage.
• Extend existing human capital resources.
On Monday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly launched the Kansas housing needs assessment tour, an effort to preview the first comprehensive statewide housing study in nearly 30 years.
The fact that the state is tackling the housing crisis is a good sign, said Great Bend Economic Development Inc. President Sara Hayden. GBED has targeted the lack of housing as a major problem locally.
“I think it’s fantastic that the state is taking active measures to understand and address this problem,” she said. Kansas is primarily rural, and rural areas are struggling the most to keep up with the housing demand.
“Kansas has taken some great strides over this past year to recruit new business and capital investment to Kansas,” she said. “But the progress will quickly halt if we can’t provide enough housing to meet the incoming demand.”
The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation and the Office of Rural Prosperity launched the housing study early this year. This tour provides the public a chance to preview regional results at several stops around the state.
The full 2021 Kansas Statewide Housing Needs Assessment will be released at the conclusion of the tour next Thursday.
Tour stops have included or will include Topeka, Kansas City, Overland Park, Atchison, Salina, Hays, Scott City, Dodge City, Derby and Chanute. Hayden plans to attend one of the sessions. Great Bend could fall into the western north-central region with meetings in Salina and Hays Tuesday or the southwestern region with meetings in Scott City and Dodge City on Wednesday.
“Quality, affordable housing brings new families to our communities, enabling businesses to recruit and retain the workforce they need to build on their record growth,” Kelly said. “We’ve known for years that Kansas has a housing shortage – but for too long, we’ve operated without a strategic focus. Using the information from the first comprehensive housing needs assessment in nearly 30 years, we can develop a data-driven approach to expand affordable housing statewide, support our workforce, and grow our economy.”
A needed assessment
“I think the state is really going to have to take a deep dive into infrastructure and building cost incentives,” Hayden said. “Rural communities are typically the ones struggling the most with housing and also the ones that are not as easily able to front the millions of dollars to provide new streets, sewers, electricity, etc.”
While there are some incentive programs available at the state level to help communities to bridge the gap, “I think it is entirely necessary to look at additional solutions to make building in rural areas more cost effective,” she said.
RDG Planning & Design, an Omaha-based consulting firm, conducted the state’s in-depth study over the past year to identify current housing needs and growth opportunities, including goals and strategic initiatives to guide the state’s future housing development efforts.
Analysis included a series of 71 virtual and in-person listening sessions with more than 425 community participants across the state, as well as meetings with housing groups. Consultants conducted a statewide survey of more than 4,400 respondents and analyzed census data to develop a comprehensive picture of the state’s housing needs, current resources, and growth opportunities.
Hayden said RDG is the same group that completed GBED’s local study this past spring. “With that information we were able to get the loft grant off the ground and are hopeful to add 30-40 loft housing units in the following years.”
Loft living is also a major state focus right now as state officials, like those locally, recognize the importance of utilizing our existing infrastructure, Hayden said.
“We have other wheels in motion to create more housing solutions in the middle income category (which, as documented in our housing study, is most needed in our area),” she said. “But we are not far enough into the project to announce anything concrete at this time. It is a major focus of Great Bend Economic Development.”
The state’s housing study was funded and administered by the ORP and KHRC, the state’s housing finance agency. KHRC and ORP selected RDG to lead the study through a competitive RFP process.
Governor Laura Kelly and former Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers created the Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP), a nonpartisan initiative established in part to ensure that rural Kansas is heard and represented in the statehouse. During the ORP’s 2019 and 2020 statewide listening and action tours, housing was brought up by leaders in every region of the state.
The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation is a self-supporting, nonprofit, public corporation helping Kansans access the safe, affordable housing. KHRC serves as the state’s housing finance agency, administering housing and community programs.