Putting together a housing outlook for Kansas is a bit like placing jigsaw puzzle pieces together – and is sometimes the case, a few pieces are missing to make a successful picture.
That was one of the points from a presentation by the Topeka-based Kansas Housing Resources Corporation’s statewide housing needs assessment study on Dec. 9 at the Derby Public Library. About 35 people attended the hour-long event, including several city officials.
An aging housing stock, especially in rural areas, and affordable housing, especially for the senior market, were some of those needs cited by the study.
Others factors included a shortage of skilled labor everywhere and builders outside of the urban areas.
Derby was one of nine stops made by KHRC Executive Director Ryan Vincent and officials from RDG Design, the company contracted for the study, which is the first such undertaking in 30 years. That previous study was conducted during the Gov. Joan Finney administration in the early 1990s.
Some 4,400 people, including Derby residents, helped provide data for the study, which will be fully available on the KHRC’s website by early January.
The KHRC did a similar state tour in the spring to launch the study, and this tour is putting the finishing touches on the project, Vincent said.
The KHRC, a nonprofit, independent corporation that has some governmental relationships, will be letting the Kansas Legislature review the study. It’s up to its members what actual action steps will be taken at the state level.
Kansas has a ways to go, Vincent said, as it spent only 69 cents per resident on housing, or about $2 million for a moderate housing fund.
In comparison, Nebraska, with 1 million fewer people, puts up to $10 million a year into its housing trust fund.
Housing and economic development
Vincent also tied providing adequate housing that meets market demand directly into economic development.
Derby has now passed the 25,000 population mark and, with a healthy McConnell Air Force Base nearby and Spirit AeroSystems ramping back up after being hit hard from the COVID-19 pandemic, it could use housing to handle that growth.
“If we’re going to have economic development, we have to have good housing stock,” he said.
After the event, Mayor Randy White said that while there was a lot of data, it was broken down well.
One point of acute interest to local residents, he said, was the aging population and income level.
“The answer to affordable housing is senior housing, which is a somewhat different way to think about it,” he said.
That’s because, as stated by KHRC, the situation is that many older residents are staying in their homes and, while “aging in place” is usually a good thing, it prevents their affordable homes from being placed on the market.
The demand is so high that in Derby an income-based senior housing development, Homestead Senior Residences, has a waiting list of two to three years of people who want to move into one of its 76 units.
Another development, which is aimed for – but not restricted to – seniors, The Oaks, is selling well; however, it’s priced at market and not at an income-restricted rate.
One benefit of The Oaks, White said, is that it’s opened up some single family homes in Derby that otherwise would not be on the market.
Also in attendance was Assistant City Planner Everett Haynes and Assistant City Manager for Development Dan Squires, who said the city has been taking steps to encourage more housing development, such as mixed use in commercial areas.
Another move has been to allow an “accessory apartment,” or a second dwelling, on an owner-occupied house lot.
“We’ve loosened up the regulations and streamlined some processes to allow more use of those properties,” Squires said.
Making more use of existing properties
Squires said the city should continue to grow, including through what is known as consent annexation in which a developer requests to be part of the city in order to use its services.
But even though Derby’s population is now 25,600, because it’s in a metro area, it doesn’t qualify for certain state programs designed for cities of less than 60,000, he said.
And Squires agreed with the study’s assessment on senior and affordable housing. Although seniors may want to move, many can’t because of income issues.
“You don’t move from a $100,000 house to a $400,000 house,” he said.
Many cities could use more apartments, too, but in Derby, White said the city is going to “let the market drive it.”
He cited the approximately 1,200 apartments around the golf course, which he said “stay pretty full.”
One challenge the study found, said Charlie Cowell, a partner with RDG, is that while many cities need more housing, the labor force just isn’t there. That includes a shortage of skilled instructors in community colleges and vo-tech schools to teach young people how to work in the construction trades.
“That’s all across the board,” Cowell said. “The builders are not really looking for more work because they don’t have the people to do it.”