How every Kansan can help solve the state’s housing crisis
A ceremonial groundbreaking in August 2020 for Stockholm Estates, a 50-lot development in Lindsborg, Kansas, funded in part through the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation’s Moderate Income Housing program. (City of Lindsborg)
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Ryan Vincent is executive director of Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.
“Home is the nicest word there is.”
A dusty sign bearing her simple words sits outside the replica of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little house on the prairie near Independence. Experiencing swarms of grasshoppers, brutal blizzards and frequent moves during her lifetime, Laura understood the necessity and captured the beauty of home.
In my role leading Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, the state’s housing finance agency, I see the value of home everywhere, from the little girl proudly showing off the vivid purple walls of her new bedroom at a Habitat for Humanity dedication to the heartwarming note from the senior homeowner expressing that her home is comfortable in the winter for the first time thanks to our weatherization services. Like you, I treasure my own home and the stories and memories it holds. While KHRC administers housing programs and funds development, we ultimately “unlock home” for those we serve.
Our state has had a housing problem for many years. In fact, a significant amount of our housing stock was built when Laura was writing her books!
Every area of our state: urban or rural, all four corners, and smack in the middle, faces a shortage of quality, affordable, livable housing. This, in turn, affects our ability to attract and retain quality jobs, hinders the success of our neighborhoods and leads to health and equity disparities for our citizens. Further, a lack of current, comprehensive statewide housing data inhibits our ability to accurately assess the situation, identify needs and resources, and develop strategies to stimulate growth and development.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem: evictions, foreclosures, supply constraints, lack of contractors and rising material costs abound. This past year, so many of us have worked, schooled and shopped from home. Our PTO, 4-H, Girl Scouts and worship gatherings have been conducted from our homes. Home has never been more important, yet so many of our fellow Kansans are at risk of losing or never attaining it.
Despite the challenges, we are making real progress.
This year we launched our first comprehensive statewide housing study in nearly 30 years. Funded by KHRC and our partners at the state’s Office of Rural Prosperity, the initiative addresses our decades-long shortage of data on existing housing resources and current and projected needs.
Through stakeholder interviews, regional meetings and public surveys, we’ve been collecting Kansans’ housing stories, from the struggles employers face recruiting workers without adequate local housing to the cost-prohibitive nature of housing development in rural communities to the challenges of maintaining our aging housing stock.
We’re comparing similarities and contrasting differences across regions, economic groups, income levels and communities. Later this year, we’ll work with our consultant partners, RDG, to compile our findings into a comprehensive snapshot, then share action-oriented recommendations, providing a roadmap to guide future housing development.
Establishing the essential baseline data to develop an informed and robust housing strategy will be a game changer for our state’s future growth and development, but our assessment will only be as successful as the input we receive from constituents and stakeholders. That’s where you come in:
- Complete the Kansas Statewide Housing Needs Assessment survey, available in both English and Spanish. Each respondent who provides an email address will be entered in a drawing for a VISA gift card.
- Participate in a regional listening session. Our final session of the listening tour will take place online and in person at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 27, in Colby.
- Visit the Kansas Statewide Housing Needs Assessment webpage to learn more and spread the word.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic to make us realize that every Kansan has the right to a safe, quality home. It shouldn’t take the bitter arctic winds and sky-high utility bills we faced in February to ensure people have a warm house safe from the elements. Home is vital and has never been more important. Let’s unlock it for our fellow Kansans.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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