Split vote leads city to RHID policy
By DAWNE LEIKER
In a split vote Thursday night, Hays city commissioners approved an economic development policy amendment proponents believe will clear the way for development of low-income and income-qualified housing.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a Rural Housing Incentive District policy. Several individuals, many with disabilities, attended the meeting during which advocates Brian Atwell and Greg Thyfault of LINK made the case for the local need for affordable housing.
The RHID policy has come before commissioners several times this year and most recently was changed at Commissioner Ron Mellick's request to include only developments that contained a minimum of 10 renter-occupied low-income or income-qualified units.
Legislation passed by Kansas leaders a few years ago allows for developers to capture the increment in property taxes to help finance capital investment in a property. In lieu of paying the taxes to the treasury, the developer can use that money to pay development costs such as water or sewer improvements.
Thyfault provided commissioners with an assessment that showed 110 individuals are on waiting lists locally to obtain low-income rentals.
Mayor Kent Steward, who, along with Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV, voted against the policy, has maintained opposition to the RHID since it was mentioned in February. Steward questioned the value of the waiting list information in regard to the RHID.
"Let's apply some logic here," Steward said. "The fact that there is a waiting list of 110 people does not automatically mean that those 110 are all not getting along reasonably well.
"But unless you're brain-dead, if there's an opportunity to go pay half as much rent somewhere else, you're going to put yourself on that waiting list. Don't hand me this list and tell me this demonstrates what the need is. It doesn't."
Schwaller asked Thyfault why he would support a policy that doesn't encourage low-income individuals to build homes instead of rent apartments. Thyfault said he has found individuals with limited incomes prefer rental situations.
"When the air-conditioning goes out, they don't have the extra money to pay for an air-conditioner," Thyfault said. "They don't have the extra money to pay for a hot water heater, because they're getting by month-to-month."
Schwaller said he had several concerns with the policy, one of which was the policy addressed only tenants and not owner-occupied housing.
"The other concern I have, when we build this (income-qualified housing) within our RHID, the city has to maintain the streets and roads to that facility," he said. "Schools have to provide education to the kids in that facility.
"There are all sorts of services, fire, police, that are going to be paid for by the taxes that are going to be forgone as a result of building this facility. And at some point, there is a tipping point, and the city cannot, and a county and the school district cannot provide the service because of these tax abatements."
Thyfault countered Schwaller's line of thinking, pointing out a sales tax advantage to bringing more residents to Hays.
"We have individuals who aren't living in Hays who want to start living in Hays," he said. "So they're going to start buying groceries.
"They're going to start buying clothes, using the hospital."
Local developers, Commissioner Shaun Musil said, have not responded to the need for income-qualified housing. Most new housing in town in the past few years either has been single-family homes or duplexes. Low-income individuals, Steward conceded, likely can't afford the newly built duplexes and six-plexes now being built in Hays.
"The people that move into those (duplexes) then, their old places that aren't as nice become available to the people who make lower incomes," he said.
"It almost comes across, the appearance that the people that are low income, that can't afford stuff ... all right, just get on out of town," Thyfault said, responding to Steward's comments. "Go find someplace else."
Steward said that was not his intent, and he understands those with low incomes have a "tough time," but "let's not do some silly policy that ... hurts everybody else except the developer that makes more profit because he dips into the pockets of every taxpayer in the city."
Musil, who along with Commissioners Eber Phelps and Ron Mellick, voted for the RHID, said he understands saving a couple hundred dollars in rent could make a big difference to a young family.
"Just because you're low income doesn't mean you can't enjoy Hays," he said.
Mellick pointed out the difficulty of families trying to live on $700 a month.
"I don't care what kind of subsidy you get, you're not going to be able to afford a house," he said. "And I'm sorry about that."
Development agreements within the RHID, City Manager Toby Dougherty told commissioners, can specify rental costs and how many handicapped accessible units are built in each development. Those developers who obtain federal tax credits are obligated to keep rental rates at the same level for the life of the property, he said.
In other business, commissioners:
* Approved a resolution accepting the final plat of the RAG addition.
* Approved rezoning a portion of the proposed Luecke Addition from A-L, agriculture district, to C-2, general commercial and service district.
* Approved engineering services agreement with Ruder Engineering and Surveying LLC for the development of the replay of Golden Belt Eighth Addition.
* Approved an addendum to a memorandum of agreement to provide 1-percent merit increases to members of the Hays Fraternal Order of Police beginning with the first payroll of 2014.