Wichita City Council
The Wichita City Council approved the creation of the city’s affordable housing fund on Tuesday. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

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The City Council voted on Tuesday to allocate $5 million for the creation of Wichita’s first affordable housing fund. 

The fund, which aims to increase the quality and quantity of affordable housing in Wichita, will be paid for with a portion of the city’s $72.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. The federal COVID recovery money can be used broadly to offset the impacts of the pandemic. 

Nonprofit and for-profit developers, as well as nonprofit housing service providers, will be able to apply for grants or forgivable loans from the fund. The up-to-$50,000 loans could be used for new construction, renovation, rehabilitation or home repair. The grants could be for housing services like credit counseling.

The city will prioritize applications that purchase and renovate or rehabilitate the Wichita Housing Authority’s 352 single-family homes. Over the past four years, the city has struggled to find a path forward for their single-family public housing units, which have a large backlog of maintenance needs and are growing increasingly vacant.   

“The transition of the public housing authority homes into affordably owned properties greatly contributes to the thriving sustainable neighborhoods where ownership has not previously been prioritized,” Gentry Thiesen, the government affairs director for the Realtors of South Central Kansas, said at the City Council meeting.

The city is requiring that the programs funded by the city’s housing fund target low-to-moderate-income households — households of four making less than $60,560 a year. Any properties rehabilitated with money from the fund, whether they be for homeownership or rental, will have deed restrictions to ensure long-term affordability through 2026.  

A seven-member board of City Council and mayoral appointees will make the funding recommendations. The board is expected to be representative of the city’s diversity. 

Thiesen encouraged the city to include a Realtor on the board. John Todd, a retired real estate broker and developer in Wichita, also encouraged the city to include people from the real estate sector on the board.  

The City Council approved the creation of the housing fund in a 6-to-0 vote, with council member Brandon Johnson abstaining due to a conflict of interest.

City allocates more ARPA funding to workforce, small-business grants

The City Council also voted Tuesday to allocate $6.4 million of its ARPA funds for small-business and workforce development grants for nonprofits, public-private partnerships and educational entities.

The largest grant recipient is WSU Tech, which received $3.7 million or about 58% of the money for two separate programs. About $2 million will go toward a new center for Wichita Public Schools’ high school students to learn about health care careers. Another $1.7 million is for a new program for high school students and adults to learn manufacturing skills. 

The majority of the grant funding, $5.6 million, is funding workforce development initiatives. The rest, about $792,000, is going toward small-business initiatives.

About $3.6 million of the initial $10 million the city set aside for these grants is left to be allocated. A second opportunity for grant applications will be due May 4

Last month, the Sedgwick County commissioners voted to allocate all $100.2 million of its ARPA dollars for county programs, including public health measures, a court backlog and employee premium pay. 

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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.