Members of Ignite Emporia and the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce invited business leaders and other area residents to participate in a series of discussions on current housing issues and opportunities for growth Tuesday at the Trusler Business Center.
In December, Ignite Emporia contacted Omaha-based RDG Planning & Design to complete a comprehensive housing study for Lyon County. During Tuesday’s meetings, RDG representatives Amy Haase and Charlie Cowell were on hand to answer statistical questions and gather face-to-face input about Emporia’s housing market, including a bevy of suggestions on methods to promote affordable living spaces for low-income families and individuals.
“A lot of our clients qualify for Section 8 housing, but a lot of the units in Emporia don’t meet the standards for Section 8 housing,” said SOS, Inc. representative Sakeena Agha. “There’s definitely a disparity there … There’s a big cause for concern for those individuals in low-income situations. I would say that we definitely lack a lot of subsidized housing. We have it, but it’s in such demand that the waiting list can sometimes be months.”
Families making higher-than-average incomes in comparison with others in the city have also reported a shortage of viable housing in the $100,000 to $150,000 range, a problem which RDG consultants said wasn’t foreign to similar-sized communities. Some also raised issue with landlords increasing rent costs despite making little to nothing in the way of physical improvements to their owned buildings.
“When I moved here five years ago, I lived in a really nice part of town over off of 18th and Prairie,” said Earl Hoffman with Nex-Tech Wireless. “The house was three bed, two-bath and came with a finished basement and two-car garage. I paid $650 a month. That exact same house now rents for $1,200 a month, and they’ve done nothing to it. I know the people that live there now, and it’s the exact same carpet, exact same paint — there’s been nothing improved, but somehow the house is worth almost twice as much per month now. You see similar types of situations a lot around town … You’re seeing single bedroom apartments in Emporia going for $700, $800, even $900 a month. At those rates, it might just be cheaper to live in a bigger community.”
Moving forward, members of the Ignite Emporia team said they would need to be creative with their initiatives, some of which could involve increasing benefits of existing neighborhood revitalization initiatives or even creating programs to aid with additional payments such as child care costs for those falling into lower-income brackets.
“The money we’re talking about within Ignite Emporia is privately funded, so that allows us to write our own rules,” ValuNet President Rick Tidwell said. “That may not always be the case, and I suspect that there will be public money put into whatever program we form if it’s successful moving forward. What I want us to be looking for is some way to prime the pump, so to speak, with what funding we already have to get a program moving forward which could apply in cases even where people might not be meeting some of the set standards for other [affordable housing] programs.”
While this round of talks with RDG was strictly informational, more formal talks with the firm will be held sometime during the summer. In the meantime, those looking to offer their opinions are encouraged to visit surveymonkey.com/r/LyonCountyHousing for additional surveys and opportunities for increased collaboration.
“We know there are about as many unique housing situations as there are unique families and financial situations here in Emporia,” Ignite Emporia Director Rob Gilligan said. “So, this is an initiative where we definitely want people to make their voices heard in order to create something that benefits everyone in our community.”