Abdul Satar with his three children
Abdul Satar with his three children in one of the city’s public housing units, which he lives in. He hopes to buy the home. (Alex Unruh/The Wichita Beacon)

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In January, the city announced plans to sell its 352 single-family public housing units. 

About half of those homes are vacant — a casualty of a five-year effort to rethink single-family public housing in Wichita and a lack of funding to keep them habitable. But the other half have tenants in them — with families, children, hopes and dreams. What do the city’s plans for selling public housing units mean for them? 

Current tenants have the first opportunity to buy their home or any other Wichita Housing Authority unit in the city at its appraised value. The city sent out letters in March to public housing residents telling them to contact the housing authority if they are interested in buying.

If tenants don’t or can’t buy, they will receive a housing voucher. These vouchers mean families can move to privately owned apartments where the housing authority will pay the majority of the rent. But the vouchers typically limit how high rent can be — the average support per voucher in Wichita is $487 per housing unit.

The Wichita Beacon spoke with seven public housing residents about what the city’s decision means for them and their families. Most said it would be life-changing — for better or for worse.

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Abdul Satar moved into a public housing residence in 2016 with his three children and wife. Prior to that, he lived in Afghanistan, where he earned a degree in computer science. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

Abdul Satar

I used to work with the U.S. Army, like 14 years as an interpreter, back home (in Afghanistan). They (the U.S. Army) brought me here. Our life was in danger because of the Taliban. When I worked with the U.S. Army, I received many calls from the Taliban, saying we are gonna kill you, that kind of stuff. 

Right now, I’m working with (Wichita Public Schools) USD 259. Also, I went to Butler Community College and took classes there. After that I went to Dallas for networking around computers and developing software engineering systems.

This is a good location, a good house.

They (the Wichita Housing Authority) said, “We want to sell this.” And I told them yes, I’m interested (in buying). They have — what’s it called — good conditions. 

They are very happy; everybody is happy about it. I’m happy. I have a big family. If I have this house, after five years, 10 years, it’s my own. When I retire, I cannot pay the rent anymore. 

Kassy Lucero moved into a public housing residence in southwest Wichita seven years ago. She is a stay-at-home mom with five kids. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

Kassy Lucero

When I got my letter, I remember reading it. And I kind of had a heads up from (The Beacon’s) article, so I knew it was coming. But at the same time, I thought, man, it’s already happening. Now we need to really just figure out what the heck we’re going to do. Because, at that time, I didn’t have anything lined up jobwise. I didn’t know what we were going to do financially. So that was the scary part. Because we tried to buy a house in the past, and it’s a lot. They want you to have good credit, and want you to have some money to put down. And I thought, “Yeah, we’re not in a position to do that right now.” So I was like, “Ugh, what are we going to do?” 

When I first got the letter, the only thing they had on there was about if you wanted to buy your home. So I thought, if we’re not going to buy it, then what are we going to do? I mean, it’s kind of annoying that they don’t give you the other option yet. Because with a voucher, I don’t know how that works. And I don’t know what to prepare for. 

We moved here when the three older girls were toddlers. This is the only house we’ve ever lived in all together. And this is where they’ve grown up. It’s kind of nice because it’s been the one consistent thing throughout their life. And since we started homeschooling, it’s our school now. We have a room that we cleared out and made it a school room. 

We’re a neurodivergent family. So everybody has something different that makes it a little bit tough. Consistency and routine and all that is important to everybody. It’s what helps them feel safe. They want to have a newer, bigger house, of course. But change. Change is hard. Especially when we’re not prepared. 

Constance Hardwell works at Coleman and has lived in public housing in southwest Wichita for seven years. She said she would be interested in buying the home to keep close the memory of her late son, who lived with her there, but she hasn’t received details from the city on how to do that. (Fernando Salazar)

Constance Hardwell

I’ve been here for the longest time. I like this area. I like where the house is at, sitting at the corner. I don’t like to be stuck in the middle. 

I just have memories up in here with my kids living in here. My son. He passed away. I go up in there, and I just look around. The night when he left, and didn’t come back home. 

I don’t know… I just love this house. My sister’s like, “Why won’t you just let it go?” And I’m like, I’m not ready.  

I get excited, and high blood pressure. When I get in these moods. I just go up to his room and lay in his bed, and it calms me down. 

It’s going to be OK. If I’m not here, then whoever else be here, they might see me and be like, why is this woman always up over here? And I’d just have to explain, because I just feel so close to this house. 

Aziz Ahmadzai moved into public housing in northeast Wichita in 2016 with his wife and six children. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

Aziz Ahmadzai

I moved to that address in February 2016, I think. It’s been like six years, something like that. Before that, I came to Wichita from Afghanistan. 

The house — it’s good. But it’s an old house. Insulation is not good. So, sometimes it causes me to pay more electric and gas bills. We also get some kind of pest issues because the house has some open channels. That causes mice and other pests to come into the house. It’s not something that’s not livable. But on the positive side, the rent is not that bad. 

The motivation (to buy the house) is to have something that I own, right. The rent will go into the equity and then probably the house that we can buy. We know how the house is. It has problems, but they are fixable. We have experience with the house. 

The other thing why I want to buy this house is it might be cheaper than other regular houses. In that case, I said, OK, it can be a good deal if I buy it, and the long-term benefit would be that I would have my own house. I would not be paying any rent. 

So I can work on it. For example, if I have insulation issues, I would go ahead and fix it. Or if I needed to fix the rooms. For example, my house has like five to six bedrooms, but they’re all small. So if I needed, I might take the walls between one or two rooms and make it one big room. Do my own thing with the house. 

The Afghans’ average family size is 10 people. They are raising more and more kids. This is the Afghan culture, you know. I know it sounds crazy, but we have it now in Wichita. Those people are struggling with finding a house to fit their bigger family. So, this might be a good opportunity for those people to get their own house, so that they can be staying in their houses for as long as they want, and they won’t be having trouble with the landlords. 

Wichita is always struggling with the labor force. For the commerce side, it is beneficial to Wichita to sell these houses to the Afghans because it will keep the working class labor force. It will also help the people of working class to own houses.

Shewana Colbert has lived in public housing in west Wichita since 2012. (Courtesy Photo/Shewana Colbert)

Shewana Colbert

I’ve been here since 2012. This is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere, period. If I have that option (to buy), I would definitely want to. 

As far as buying the house, they (the Wichita Housing Authority) really haven’t given us a lot of information. But they have sent out letters saying we do have the option to buy. But other than that, that’s all. They haven’t really given us a lot of information on the steps to go through to buy a house and all this other stuff. So like right now, we don’t know what’s going on. Could we just get put out at any given moment, you know what I mean? It’s just really unpredictable. That’s just the way it is, you always got to have a backup plan.

Beatriz Rivera moved into public housing 13 years ago with her five kids. She came to Wichita from Puerto Rico 14 years ago. (Courtesy Photo/Beatriz Rivera)

Beatriz Rivera

Years ago, all my family passed through here. And we feel like, I don’t want to leave, because it’s been my house for almost 13 years. But I told my mom, I need to fix a lot. If I buy the house, I need to make another loan to fix it. I try to paint, I try to do my best, but the house takes a lot of work. 

The floors of the kitchen (are) terrible. The roofing is terrible. All carpet is terrible. My daughter’s room, I changed the floor already, because the floor started to break. I can’t change the kitchen, because it’s too big. And it’s too much money. And it’s not my house. 

All my kids … went into elementary (school), and they passed through middle (school) and they don’t want to leave the school. It’s why I don’t want to move to another area. 

So if we don’t buy the house, we have to rent or move. So it’s for that, I say, it’s a good idea to buy the house. But I was waiting (to hear) about the price.

This is the dream for everybody, to buy the house. If we don’t buy the house, we have to do something, to move somewhere. But we are not ready. Because buying the house is not easy.

Toni James is a single parent and has lived with her three children in Wichita public housing in South City for eight years. She said she would take a housing voucher over buying the house. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)  

Toni James

I’ve been in this dwelling for eight years. My children now are 10, 11 and soon to be 13. … It’s frustrating for me. Everything that needs to be repaired has been on my yearly inspections to be fixed. This is over an eight-year period of time. These things still have not been fixed or if they have been fixed, they’ve been rebroken because all they did was patch them up. 

I’m frustrated. I’m depressed. My children are depressed. You can come look inside my house and see that they’re not doing anything because they are selling them. It’s impacting me and my children’s mental health. I’m a homebody, I’m family-oriented. I don’t want nobody over here for dinner because of the way the house looks. 

I’m not buying this house. If they were going to be torn down, why would I buy this house? 

I feel like they’re insulting my intelligence. Why would you offer someone to buy a dwelling that you know has so many problems, that you as an organization were going to tear down and rehab? But now you want me to buy this residence. If I had the money to buy a house, I wouldn’t be in public housing. None of this makes sense to me at all. I feel like they’re insulting my intelligence.

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Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership...