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Advocates make plea for housing help





An amended Rural Housing Incentive District policy came before Hays city commissioners at Tuesday's work session. And, although commissioners have considered several implications of the policy during the last few months, a new perspective was offered by representatives of SKIL of Western Kansas and LINK Inc.

In its present form, the RHID policy city commissioners are considering states only developments containing a minimum of 10 renter-occupied low- or moderate-income qualified units will be consider for RHID status, and that the policy would be in place only as long as there is a local need for low income and income-qualified housing.

An RHID captures 100 percent of incremental real property taxes created by a development in an attempt to reduce overall costs. The developer, in essence, pays taxes only on the value of the undeveloped land prior to improvements. Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development Executive Director Aaron White, at the request of Commissioner Eber Phelps, brought information to commissioners regarding the need for income-based housing in Hays. "We're looking at over 150 on a waiting list for specifically this type of housing," White said. "There are very few units available."

The need for housing for individuals with disabilities and victims of domestic violence was emphasized by Lou Ann Kibbee of SKIL. Also addressing commissioners regarding the need for housing for individuals with disabilities was LINK's Greg Thyfault. "I have been doing what I do for over 20 years, and I can tell you that it is extremely difficult, next to impossible, to find affordable housing for people with disabilities in Hays," Kibbee said. "Affordable housing is sometimes available, but to find an accessible apartment that is low-income-based is next to impossible in Hays. "

Mayor Kent Steward, who during several past commission meetings has stated his opposition to implementing an RHID policy, said his biggest concern is "there's no free lunch."

"You don't have to pay your taxes so you can build these things and make them available to people for a lower rent," he said. "Then everybody else has to pay those taxes for him and inevitably, the costs to other people go up.

"I don't disagree about the need. ... I just do not believe this is the right approach."

Commissioner Ron Mellick said he didn't want to argue with Steward, but no contractors have stepped up locally to fill the income-based housing need, and if needs aren't met, the city potentially could be forced provide funds to alleviate the needs of individuals who are homeless.

Kibbee said she, too, has struggled on where the burden should lie for providing income-based housing to residents.

"As a property owner in Hays, I pay property taxes," she said. "But I also deal everyday with people that can't find somewhere to live or are living in housing that is so substandard that it's terrible -- mold, structures falling apart -- the landlord's not willing to do repairs."

Commissioners will vote on the amended RHID policy at next week's regular meeting.

Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV was absent Tuesday.

In other business, commissioners:

* Discussed the final plat of the RAG addition, a small area off of 22nd Street and General Hays Road. They will vote on the plat at their next regular meeting.

* Considered rezoning of the Luecke Addition, which will come to a vote next week.

* Considered replay of Golden Belt 8th Addition engineering services agreement. The item was moved forward for action at their next meeting.

* Discussed an addendum to the Fraternal Order of Police Union contract. The city is agreeing to provide a one percent merit increase for all personnel covered by this contract effective on the first payroll of 2014. Commissioners will vote on the addendum next week.

* Tabled consideration of city staff sending notifications to city board and committee members who do not adhere to attendance requirements for their respective positions.