The city of Wichita owns 352 single-family housing units, including these homes on North Piatt Street. On Tuesday, the city announced plans to sell the homes. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)
The city of Wichita owns 352 single-family housing units, including these homes on North Piatt Street. On Tuesday, the city announced plans to sell the homes. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

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The city of Wichita outlined a plan to rehabilitate most and sell all of its 352 single-family housing units on Tuesday. The plan would end the city’s public housing program.

​​Most of the proceeds from the sales would go to the city’s new affordable housing fund, which aims to boost affordable housing development. The proceeds can be used to build new affordable units but will not be used for new public housing units.

“Once we dispose of the single-family homes we will no longer have a public housing program,” Sally Stang, director of Wichita’s Housing and Community Services Department, wrote in an email to The Wichita Beacon.

The city is in the process of renovating and converting its 226 other public housing units, which are multifamily complexes, into Section 8 housing that will be managed by an affordable housing nonprofit.

The city’s aim is to keep many of the single-family units affordable after they are sold. About two-thirds of the units would be eligible for rehabilitation with dollars from the affordable housing fund. The fund is seeded with $5 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars. It will invest in housing projects accessible to low-income buyers or renters, according to a presentation at a City Council workshop on Tuesday.

The future of the public housing units has been in limbo since 2019. Collectively, the homes are in need of $18.9 million of construction and rehabilitation work. 

Since 2019, the city has considered various options for the units, including demolition and selling, but hasn’t taken any action. As the homes awaited a plan for their future, vacancies among them grew. Half of the single-family units were vacant as of December 2021. 

Aujanae Bennett, a neighborhood association president in northeast Wichita, was glad to hear the city laid out a plan for the public housing units. Many of the units in her neighborhood are vacant, and she hopes to see that change. 

“It’s time that something is done instead of just talked about,” Bennett said.

Next steps for Wichita’s single-family public housing

The city plans to split the single-family homes into four groups, each with a different future.

The properties considered in “decent condition” by the city — 34 units scattered throughout Wichita — will be sold without any rehabilitation.

Also, 45 of the homes in the South City area will be rehabilitated using $1.5 million the city received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2021. Those homes will then be sold to low-income families who earn less than 80% of the area median income.  

The city will put out a request for proposals for a developer to buy and rehabilitate 35 of the homes near Ridge Road and Central Avenue. The developer can use them as affordable rentals or sell them to low-to-moderate income buyers, Stang wrote in an email to The Beacon.

The remaining 238 homes will be eligible for investment and rehabilitation from the affordable housing fund and ultimately sold. The city may apply land-use restrictions to some of these units to keep them affordable. 

Many of these homes are clustered in neighborhoods throughout Wichita — 46 in Northeast Millair, and 23 near Pawnee and Meridian. Targeting rehabilitation of these groups of homes could be more impactful than rehabbing individual scattered units, Stang said during Tuesday’s meeting. 

“We’ve done a lot of rehab. We’ve done infill development. But I’ve always said it’s the shotgun approach — one here, one there, one there,” Stang added. “And we really don’t see that those activities help to lift up whole neighborhoods. We don’t see that synergy raising property values.” 

Proceeds from all housing sales will go toward the affordable housing fund, after first paying back a loan and paying for pre-development expenses. For all 352 units, current public housing residents will have the first opportunity to buy the homes and will receive housing choice vouchers if they do not, according to Stang.

Next steps for the city’s plan for the single-family homes include completing an application to HUD to sell the units and developing requests for proposals for the homes.  

Recommendations for the affordable housing fund 

Also Tuesday, the City Council heard recommendations from the Affordable Housing Fund Technical Advisory Committee. The group of nonprofit directors, philanthropy leaders and developers, among others, advised the city on implementing the fund. The city formed the committee last summer.

Under the committee’s recommendations, for-profit and nonprofit developers, as well as nonprofit housing service providers, could apply to the fund for grants or forgivable loans. The loans could be used for new construction, home renovation or rehabilitation, among other options. The grants would be for housing services — like credit counseling — or home repair programs.

Applications would be judged on a variety of factors, including whether applicants use other funding sources and whether the projects are located in formerly redlined areas. Redlining was a practice that designated many African-American neighborhoods as poor areas for investment.

The proposed projects should also be affordable to potential homebuyers or tenants.  

But one of the most important considerations would be whether the proposed project renovates the public housing units, said Andy Pfister, a senior associate with Development Strategies. 

The St. Louis-based consulting firm is advising the city on creating the affordable housing fund. Projects within a quarter-mile of the public housing units will also be heavily considered.

“This has become an integral aspect of the recommendation that the advisory committee put forth,” Pfister said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The city ultimately plans to put out requests for proposals from organizations seeking to use the affordable housing funds. But first, it plans to share the advisory committee’s recommendations with district advisory boards and neighborhood associations. The city also needs to craft a committee to judge the applications seeking dollars from the affordable housing fund.

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Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @CeliaHack.