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City's housing issues unchanged


More than a decade ago, a housing task force identified significant issues with affordability and quality of housing in Hays.

A recent housing needs assessment and Smartgrowth Workshop uncovered many of the same issues with much the same failing: No road map has been presented to remedy the problems identified.

On Thursday night, City Manager Toby Dougherty asked Hays city commissioners for their support of a city staff-driven process to examine the issues in relation to city zoning and development regulations, ultimately producing a road map for future decisions affecting Hays housing.

Dougherty was tasked by commissioners after a presentation of a housing needs assessment several months ago to develop a plan for meeting housing challenges that were identified in the most recent housing study.

He outlined for commissioners the history of housing studies in Hays.

In 1999-2000, a housing task force worked in conjunction with the Docking Institute to study housing in Hays.

Findings of the study included:

* General housing costs were high.

* There was a lack of entry-level housing, quality rentals, condos and town homes.

* The costs to build and develop were higher in Hays than in the region.

* The existing rental stock was of substandard quality.

A few recommendations, such as taking advantage of federal and state programs and attempting to keep development of housing costs comparable to peer communities came out of the study.

"Those are all noble goals, but they're very generic and there's really no plan going forward," Dougherty told commissioners. "So now we fast forward to 2012, and I would say, in the interim, we have had not a lot of focus from a policy standpoint on housing.

Findings of the 2012 housing needs assessment, which is similar to findings in Hays' most recent comprehensive plan, included:

* Hays has a surplus of higher-priced single family homes.

* Housing costs are high.

* Hays has a shortage of affordable housing, entry-level housing, quality rentals, student housing, town homes, condos and senior housing.

"The one thing I found in my research is that all the investigations agree on the key issue," Dougherty said. "And the key issue is identified as a lack of affordable housing and entry level housing and a shortage of many types of housing and a surplus of lower density single family homes."

In looking at what other cities have done in similar situations, Dougherty said he has found no "one-size-fits-all" solution, as each community has its own unique characteristics.

Dougherty's proposal, to allow city staff members to work on the issue, meeting with local stakeholders to develop strategies to deal with the issues, was met by approval by city commissioners.

"When we're done, we should have not only what we feel is a clear identification of the problem, but some clear policy actions that you can take some or all of them and move forward," Dougherty said. "Essentially, it would be a housing action plan with a clear road map and expectations off of these policies."

In other business, commissioners heard an overview of what's ahead for the upcoming legislative session from John Pinegar and Doug Smith of Pinegar, Smith and Associates.

* * *

The commission soon will take action to replace Commissioner Barbara Wasinger due to Wasinger's recent election to the Ellis County Commission.

An announcement of the open city commission position will be made Tuesday at a city press briefing, and an online application form will be available after that time on the city's website.

Commissioners set a Dec. 10 deadline for applications, with a vote on the appointment anticipated to be taken during the Dec. 13 meeting.