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Community stakeholders discuss need for quality housing

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Local real estate agents and other housing stakeholders attended the Kansas Regional Workforce Housing Summit on Tuesday, with many expressing a concern about a lack of appropriate housing.

"For us, housing and workforce development go hand in hand," said Aaron White, executive director of Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, which helped sponsor the summit with Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corp., Kansas Policy Network, Kansas Department of Commerce, Kansas Housing Resources Corp., Kansas Department of Agriculture, HUD and USDA Rural Development.

"Finding affordable workforce housing for Kansans is a growing issue across the state," said Ashley Jones Wisner, Greater Kansas City LISC state policy director.

In addition to White, panelists for the summit included Kent Steward, Hays vice mayor and Fort Hays State University university relations director; Nikki Pfannenstiel, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. manager of member services; and Bob Fiola, chief financial officer of Wilkens Manufacturing Inc. Consultant Julia Seward moderated the discussion.

Pfannenstiel said Sunflower Electric has offices and a workforce in several locations in western Kansas.

"The types of places people want to rent when they come to town aren't necessarily available to them when they come to town," Pfannenstiel said.

Finding suitable rentals has become increasingly difficult, and some employees have had to live in motels for a time.

Bob Fiola said his family remained in Wichita, and he had a difficult time finding suitable housing in Stockton or Plainville for himself. The rents also were high compared to the Wichita area.

Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development director, said his county has partnered with state agencies and area groups to address the housing problem.

"There's no magic bullet for this," Hrabe said.

"Affordable housing costs impacts businesses," White said. "Every additional dollar they are spending on housing they wouldn't normally need to is a dollar they're not spending at retailers, (and) gas stations throughout the community. The loss of sales tax revenue to businesses adds up. Discretionary income goes away when they're spending more on housing."

"I think the state honestly is doing what the state can, but it's not just a state problem," Pfannenstiel said. "It's a local problem, it's a community problem."