4 ways Johnson County could tackle housing affordability

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Four proposals on affordable housing — including a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood development that will be the first of its kind in the county — are being discussed by the Johnson County commission as it continues to be troubled by the high cost of finding a home here.

Commissioners last week began to look at ways to use county resources to prod more affordable home and rental prices out of a market that has remained stubbornly expensive.

According to the most recent county appraiser’s report, property values rose an average of 11% last year in Johnson County, and the average resale price of an existing home was $473,000.

Affordable housing has long been on the commission’s priority list. The proposals are aimed at addressing some of the recommendations presented by its housing subcommittee after two years of study.

Habitat for Humanity is behind an Olathe development

The commission will decide this week whether to use nearly $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds toward a small development of homes to be built by Habitat for Humanity on eight acres at 159th Street and Blackbob Road in Olathe.

Once completed, the Habitat Olathe Pathway development will be the first of its kind in Johnson County.

Habitat plans to break ground on the development of about 20 build-to-suit homes for low-income families in August.

The Board of County Commissioners will consider the housing proposals at its regular meeting Thursday. Photo credit Kylie Graham.

The homes will range from 1,400-2,200 square feet and will be in a neighborhood built with green space, walking paths, a community garden and a playground.

To qualify, families can earn up to $54,250 a year for a single person or $62,000 for a household of two or more. The subsidized purchase keeps the mortgages families pay at no more than 30% of their gross income.

There are also other requirements, including 350 hours of “sweat equity” working on the homes and homeowner education classes, two years of steady income, limits on non-medical debt and a criminal and sex offender background check.

The development will remain affordable in the future because the homeowners sign ground leases, and the homes become part of a land trust. When a homeowner is ready to move, the land trust compensates them with 25% of the equity they have built, at which point the home can be resold to another low-income buyer.

The project is possible because Pathway Community Church sold the land to Habitat at below-market rates, said Lindsay Hicks, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Kansas City.

The total project is expected to cost about $5.9 million, of which Habitat will invest $3.8 million.

The nonprofit is asking for $1 million from the city of Olathe. Commissioners will decide this week whether to authorize $950,000 in federal COVID-19 relief money to pay for some infrastructure needs of the development.

Commissioners noted that the project is a collaborative effort that could become a model for other communities and faith organizations in the future.

Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick said partnerships with groups like Habitat are necessary because county government is limited in what it can do.

“These kinds of things have to be partnered,” she said. “The county alone can’t do it. We aren’t developers. We don’t build houses.”

Landlords could get paid for accepting tenants with vouchers

Commissioners also mulled over two pilot programs laying out incentives for landlords who are reluctant to accept renters with federally funded housing vouchers.

The county Mental Health and Housing Authorities are asking for $200,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay landlords a bonus once a one-year lease is signed.

The details of the program have not been worked out yet, but the idea is in response to a survey of 700 landlords seeking to improve their participation.

A majority said a bonus equal to two months’ rent plus compensation for damages would make them likely to accept renters with vouchers.

The voucher program has been underused lately because of a lack of participating landlords, according to a staff report.

Kansas housing survey
Two of the proposals involve offering incentives to landlords who have been reluctant to lease to tenants with federal housing vouchers. File photo.

Between 2019 and 2022, some 2,840 units were removed from the list of those available for vouchers because landlords stopped accepting them. At the time, several large complexes had changed ownership.

That’s resulted in low-income potential tenants who qualify for federal rent assistance but cannot find an apartment owner accepting it, the report said.

According to data from the Johnson County Housing Authority, 60% of vouchers go unused and expire.

If the program is approved, the funding could assist 50 to 75 of the approximately 160 families searching for housing.

Officials said the program is intended to find the right mix of incentives to encourage more voucher acceptance.

Landlords may also get compensated if tenants break their lease

A landlord “risk mitigation” pilot program is also being considered alongside the voucher incentives.

It would compensate landlords for damage caused by tenants or lost rent after the security deposit is applied if a tenant moves early.

The maximum benefit would be $3,500 for a two-bedroom unit or $2,000 for a studio or one-bedroom unit.

The payment is under consideration because many landlords said it would also convince them to begin accepting vouchers.

The commission will consider this week whether to dedicate $50,000 in countywide support funds for it. No federal COVID-19 funds were requested for this proposal.

Hundreds of people gathered in May at Leawood’s United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, in part, to press county chair Mike Kelly to bring up mental health, homelessness and affordable housing to the county commission. File photo.

The county chair is pushing for a housing trust fund

Finally, county Chairman Mike Kelly also asked commissioners to discuss whether to ask county staff to investigate the pros and cons of a countywide housing trust fund.

Housing trust funds are set up to preserve or create affordable housing. They are flexible and can have a wide variety of creative uses to maintain existing housing or provide more affordable home choices.

Kelly’s request did not set out details on any preferred trust fund arrangement.

The idea for a trust fund was promoted recently by the Good Faith Network.

At their meeting this week, commissioners will decide whether to ask county staff to look into the possibilities of a trust fund and how it might be deployed in Johnson County.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.