GARDEN CITY, Kansas - Southwest Kansas has an estimated population of just over 150,000 residents, and with that number expected to increase significantly in the coming years, the challenge has been presented to the cities and counties of the region to add to the area's estimated 53,000 housing units.
"The developers aren't going to build a house for free," Sam Henderson, a planner with Garden City, said.
Garden City completed a housing assessment in 2008, saying the city would need to have 60 to 70 housing units built every year until 2020 just to keep up with demand.
"The previous four years, we've only had about 10 to 12 units built per year, so we're running at a severe deficit," Henderson said. "We'd like to get to the point where we're about a year or two ahead of where that housing study says our demand should be."
Although it has been hard to meet this number, there is hope. Last year, Garden City landed a $300,000 grant from the state's Moderate Income Housing (MIH) program. Those dollars secured the funding to build the 43-unit Pioneer Road Estates development, currently under construction on Campus Drive near Garden City High School.
"Without that grant, Pioneer Road Estates wouldn't have gotten through," Henderson said. "Hopefully that filling out by the end of the year will show developers that we can build successful developments in Garden City."
In Dodge City, partnerships with local businesses and incentives for infrastructure improvements are keys to spur new housing growth.
"Our employers were wanting to expand and they didn't have any place for people to move into and so people were living in motels and the region," said Joann Knight, economic development director for Dodge City and Ford County. "I mean, it's not anything for someone to drive 50 miles one day to come work here in Dodge."
300 housing units have been built in the last five years, and there are agreements for another 350 to be built soon.
"A lot of the issue is the market rates compared to the construction costs don't meet up, so if there's not a developable lot that has infrastructure already, it's been hard for developers to make a living doing it," Knight said.
But a large need remains. Data from a housing assessment last year says from now until 2017, Dodge City needs to build 941 housing units, and 878 additional units between 2018 and 2022.
"We've had a lot of our manufacturers expand here recently and I think part of that has to do with the availability of housing now that they know they can find something for their employees that they haven't been able to for awhile," Knight said.
Meanwhile, in Liberal, where the city needs between 77 and 100 new homes every year to meet demand, moderate-income housing is the biggest need, as businesses in Seward County and neighboring areas look to expand.
"Sometimes we lack builders, sometimes we lack developers, sometimes it's just a vision," Karen LaFreniere, the city's housing director, said. "What we're trying to do is make something positive out of it."
Earlier this month, the city of Liberal changed its incentives program, giving a $4,000 incentive to people who buy certain newly built homes, and apartment owners $750 for each of up to ten new apartments they build, and $250 more for every apartment they build after that.
"We didn't have any more development than some place that didn't have incentives, so that tells us that we needed to change up or do something different," LaFreniere said.
The communities of southwest Kansas are starting to band together, forming an alliance to help solve the issue as a collective force.
"We've seen a lot of success over the past years, and fortunately it's been a slow growth, but it's been very steady, very good and very diversified," Knight said.
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