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City prepares to huff, puff, blow housing issues down

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

In an attempt to remedy housing issues identified in a 2012 Hays housing needs assessment, a local task force will begin a lengthy process in January to identify housing pitfalls and propose policies to address those.

Comprised of Jake Glover, planning commissioner; Henry Schwaller IV, city commissioner; Jesse Rohr, planning, inspection and enforcement superintendent; I.D. Creech, director of public works, Aaron White, Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development executive director; Toby Dougherty, city manager; Paul Briseno, assistant city manager; and Jana Jordan, Hays Convention and Tourism director, the task force will begin its anticipated year-long process in January.

The group's goal is to figure out what's driving the perceived housing issues in Hays.

"When one looks for the number of houses that are listed today in a certain price range, there aren't any," Schwaller said in a December interview. "And so for the future economic development of the city, it's important for us to find out why.

"Is this a natural part of the market or are there impediments and problems that the city could address?"

Schwaller suggested to Dougherty the task force attempt to go through much the same process a developer would follow in an attempt to identify impediments that could be derailing the process.

"I think that would be helpful, so then we could look at every single thing along the way and see what impact the city has versus outside forces," Schwaller said. "What we need to do, from a practical approach, is figure out what are the keys to making developments successful and minimizing the city's intrusion on that and figure out where are we going."

"I do think we need to be thoughtful and strategic in our approach so that we can encourage development."

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.

There's a lot of "moving targets" when it comes to housing in Hays, Dougherty said. The task force will look at which issues are interconnected and which aren't.

Starting with a rough outline and general discussion between the Hays Area Planning Commission and Hays city commissioners, the task force then will have stakeholder meetings.

"The stakeholder groups are the people that own, buy, build, rent, develop, manage," Dougherty said. "These are the people that are entrenched in housing as a whole in Hays.

"We want to hear from them."

Input from employers also will be sought during stakeholder meetings. In addition, the task force will do their own investigating, referencing housing studies, state statutes and local policies.

The group's work will culminate with development of policy considerations.

"Ideally, you would like to have policies in place that provide the smallest framework necessary so the private sector could address it," Dougherty said.

Some private sector building plans for higher density housing could be in the works, according to White. Overland Property Group, developer of Stonepost Apartments, is considering development of 16 market rate apartments, possibly in conjunction with a project for a 16-unit-low-income apartment complex south of Hays Medical Center on 22nd. Potential also exists with M Space, a company White has been working with that has dealt with modular housing projects in areas experiencing oil and gas expansion.

"I'm in the process of setting up a site visit for (M Space officials) to come in and take a look at us," White said. "With the kind of investment they're going to have to make, it will be a slow process for them to step in and do a project.

"But the interest is there, which is the first step. They're willing to come in and look at the community and look at potential partners, and we've identified some folks in the community who are interested in maybe partnering with them. We're moving in the right direction and taking some good steps down the road to get the project going."