A low-income single-family housing project was approved April 14 by the Unified Government Commission, on a 6-4 vote.
The split vote reflects a UG Commission torn between its desire to provide new housing for low-income persons, and its feeling that there was already too much low-income housing in Wyandotte County.
The $8.3 million project is on a 12.5-acre site and is being developed by Belmont Development of Oklahoma and Neighborhood Housing Services of Oklahoma City.
If they receive approval for tax credits from the state of Kansas, about 30 homes could be built at the 65th and Riverview Avenue location, which is close to I-70, and also not far from a Board of Public Utilities building and one of the Turner school district buildings, the Turner Sixth Grade Academy.
The Low-Income Housing Tax Credits project had been defeated 2-2 at a committee meeting on April 4, but Mayor Mark Holland decided to advance it to the April 14 UG Commission meeting after he was asked by Commissioner Jane Philbrook. At first the item was under the mayor’s agenda, then it was moved to the commissioners’ portion of the agenda.
Kane: In 11 years on commission, never saw rules changed like this
Commissioner Mike Kane said in his 11 years on the commission, he had never seen the rules changed like this, with a project defeated at the committee level moving forward to the full commission. He thought it showed favoritism – he doubted that he could have got a project moved forward that had failed.
He said the low-income housing project would be better in a different location. The UG recently approved light industrial nearby, with jobs that are supposed to pay well. There is a feeling among some commissioners that they could do better with this site. Kane said this location is “ready to pop.”
Philbrook: ‘We need decent housing that is going to be worth something at the end of 15 years’
The proposed development is in the 8th Commission District, represented by Commissioner Jane Philbrook, who is in favor of it. It is also in the 1st District at large, represented by Commissioner Melissa Bynum, who also was in favor of it.
“We need decent housing that is going to be worth something at the end of 15 years, and that people can afford to get in and possibly buy, if that’s what they choose,” Commissioner Philbrook said.
She said none of her constituents asked her to oppose it.
“Rent-to-buy doesn’t have to be a nasty word,” Commissioner Philbrook said. A lot of people have ended up owning property after first renting it, she added.
She also said she didn’t care that she was the first commissioner to ask that a project that failed in committee be brought to the commission level.
Walker: ‘Wyandotte County has far too many of these homes’
“Quite candidly, I think the people I speak with and interact with believe that Wyandotte County has far too many of these homes as we currently exist,” Commissioner Hal Walker said. Wyandotte County doesn’t need 30 more of these homes without the other ones going away, he added.
“They have a long term effect on a neighborhood,” Commissioner Walker said. “Muncie is in desperate need … of strong new residential high-end properties, where people are earning at or far above what is called the market rate income there.”
Commissioner Walker added, “This is the wrong project at the wrong location in a town that is already carrying a load over and above what we, the taxpayers, can afford.”
Those who live in the homes would pay rent according to a sliding scale, depending on their income. Greg Rodewald, a representative of Belmont, outlined a lease-to-purchase plan under which some residents could choose to buy the home at the end of 15 years at the home’s current market rate then, and at a 45 percent discount.
Commissioner Walker said he doubted that anyone who rented would actually reach the point where they could buy the home. He also doubted whether anyone from Muncie would live there; instead it would probably be used for persons from other parts of the metropolitan area, he believes.
When asked the downsides to the project, Charles Brockman of the UG’s staff said “I don’t see a downside. It met all the requirements to move forward and I believe it’s a quality project.”
“You’re presenting it like a realistic American dream scenario where you get to acquire your house. It’s a contract for deed, really,” Commissioner Walker said.
Holland: These homes have higher values than the median KCK residence
Mayor Mark Holland said he favored the project, and said the cost of each home was about $141,000, which is more than many other homes in the community. The median residence in Kansas City, Kan., is valued at $67,000, he said. The homes in this development have a brick exterior, three bedrooms, two baths, and a two-car garage. (Different figures for median values were mentioned by Commissioner Brian McKiernan.)
There is no local money attached to the project, no tax increment financing, he said. It would have tax credits that entirely go through the state of Kansas.
The project scored very high on the UG’s list that rates LIHTC projects, he said. “We set the rules, they hit a homerun on the score sheet and we said, we’re not playing baseball, but football,” Mayor Holland said.
If the UG needs to reset its LIHTC criteria, he is willing to do that, he said. Changes in the criteria need to be outlined ahead of time, he said.
“This is the kind of housing project that’s great for Muncie,” he said. While it won’t transform the community’s residences or people, it is a step in the right direction, he said.
Markley: ‘How do you make sure they look like that?’
Commissioner Angela Markley said she looked at photos of the various developments from the company and some looked really nice, while others didn’t.
She asked how they were going to make sure the development here looks good, when he isn’t driving through it every day.
“How do you make sure they look like that?” she asked. She cited examples of apartment complexes where managers changed every few months.
The Belmont representative said it would be the same management company, on-site staff and personnel, and they wanted to be part of the community.
Murguia: It matters if property owners are out-of-town
“It really does matter who owns and manages the property,” Commissioner Ann Murguia said.
The owners live in Oklahoma, and will have managers who are on site 40 hours a week at the development’s clubhouse to manage the 30-home development, according to the developer.
“This county … has not had good luck with absentee landlords and low-income housing,” Commissioner Murguia said. “I don’t know how many times this county has had to deal with the public safety issues, the code violation issues, and all the other issues that go along with this kind of housing, before they just say enough is enough.”
She said she was also concerned that Wyandotte County is over-concentrating its whole county with low-income housing.
In Wyandotte County, some people who signed contracts for deed on Strawberry Hill thought they were renting but were actually buying. When the properties were cited for code violations, the renters had to pay for the repairs because it was determined they were owners.
According to Rodewald, for these 30 homes in the development, Belmont will take care of all maintenance, lawn mowing, snow shoveling and repairs to the homes.
McKiernan: ‘Enabling people in Wyandotte County to upgrade their housing’
Commissioner Brian McKiernan said his understanding was that the project was supposed to create affordable rental housing, and ownership would just be a happy outcome.
“With the assistance you’re able to provide through the tax credits,” he said, “it seems to me you are enabling people in Wyandotte County to upgrade their housing.”
He added there was no guarantee that the local UG approval would mean the project would be done, as it still needed to get approval for tax credits from the state. There are many times more requests than there is money available, he said.
Commissioner McKiernan’s district is on the east side of Kansas City, Kan.
“As the commissioner of a district that has 34 percent poverty rate and an aging housing stock, I am challenged to figure out how we’re going to create housing that is affordable to the people in my district who are already here, and at the same time build a stronger economic base for the future,” McKiernan said.
A policy question for the UG to consider would be whether it should mandate that LIHTC development projects be built by property owners who live here or who have headquarters here, he said.
Bynum: Some ‘pretty successful’ similar projects in the community
“We’ve seen some pretty successful Section 42 tax credit projects in the last five to 10 years in this community,” Commissioner Melissa Bynum said. “I don’t know that the LIHTC project dooms us to poverty concentration in the community.”
She mentioned Pemberton Place at 82nd and Everett, and Delaware Highlands at 126th and State. She said the UG has been fairly successful in allowing projects to succeed in multiple parts of the community.
Commissioner Jim Walters said this was a “far superior project” than another LIHTC project near 88th south of State. It did not have single-family homes or brick exteriors, and it did not receive a tax credit.
“It seems to me this is a much more desirable project than the one we previously approved,” Walters said.
Townsend: UG will hold you accountable
Commissioner Gayle Townsend said she was moved by the part of the presentation about moving from renting to ownership.
“I was disappointed to learn you don’t really have a track record for that yet,” she said. But looking at the type of housing and the project, there is a market for that, she added.
“Maybe what this commission has to address is who can come in and build these so we can reach out and touch you, figuratively speaking, if we’re not getting the responsiveness to management in these properties,” she said.
If the homes continued to look as they do in the pictures, she’d like to see someone in her district move into a home like this.
“Woe to anybody who’s coming up here,” she said, “if we’re not going to be able to hold you accountable, because we’re going to do that.”
Voting for the project were Commissioners Jane Philbrook, Melissa Bynum, Gayle Townsend, Brian McKiernan, Harold Johnson, and Jim Walters. Voting against it were Commissioners Hal Walker, Ann Murguia, Mike Kane and Angela Markley.