The Hays City Commission on Thursday discussed the results of a recent housing needs study, which indicated additional housing is needed and relatively high housing costs could pose a challenge for many families.

Commissioners, however, expressed concern the study does not tell the whole story. Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV noted the study — conducted by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute — is largely based on 2015 Census data.

Much has changed in the past two years, Schwaller said, including a significant dip in oil valuation, which often hits rural communities hard. The price of crude oil plummeted from approximately $100 per barrel to roughly $40 in 2015, and the economy has not recovered.

“(The study) didn’t take into account reality,” he said. “And the reality is if you are a landlord — and I’m guilty — you’re not doing very well right now. If you’re a realtor, you haven’t sold a home in a long time. And this is a problem.”

The study concluded there is a high demand for additional housing, and suggested the construction of more than 20 of both owner-occupied homes and rental units would be necessary during the next five years, assuming a 0.25-percent annual population growth.

Schwaller presented some numbers of his own, obtained from a variety of local sources such as realtors and rental agencies. Approximately 150 rental units are vacant, with the three largest agencies reporting 85 vacancies. Rentals — often sought by university students — usually are full by now, he said.

Fort Hays State University also has constructed new housing units of its own, resulting in a net gain of 102 dwellings during the same two-year period.

And an estimated 149 homes are for sale in Hays currently, with 80 of those listed for $200,000 or less, Schwaller said, noting the average time single-family homes spend on the market has increased to 142 days.

“That’s not to say that prices of houses in Hays are not high. They are,” he said. “When we look at Dodge, Garden, Great Bend, Hays, Salina — our houses are far more expensive … than in those other markets. But turn to the state as a whole, they’re not. Again, that’s the matter of supply and demand.”

Housing cost was a significant focus of the Docking Institute study, which confirmed Hays has the highest housing costs in western Kansas. Approximately 1,150 households had to buy a house with a value of more than twice their total income, and a high percentage of residents spent 30 percent or more of their total earnings on housing alone.

“Our housing is a little bit more expensive. So we lack some at the low end, which means people at the low end on income have to purchase houses that are a little bit more expensive than what maybe they should,” Assistant City Manager Jacob Wood said. “That also forces the rest of the market up as well. ... It pushes the whole scale just a little bit.”

The study was necessary for a potential multi-family housing project that could be constructed on East Fifth Street. Overland Property Group approached the city commission in February with a preliminary overview of the project, which would use tax credits and a Rural Housing Incentive District, which requires a housing assessment. The same developer constructed Stonepost Apartments on East Fourth Street.

While the study fulfilled its purpose for a possible RHID, commissioners indicated the study did not sufficiently answer their questions.

“I think the study was good for what it was. … It did what it was supposed to do, and I used the word check the boxes,” Commissioner Sandy Jacobs said. “But it didn’t give me anything as a commissioner to look at the things we need to do in our community, any real meat to go with it. And that’s because of what’s happened in this community since 2015.”

Commissioners indicated the study could be a first step in efforts to identify issues within the city’s housing market. The city earlier this year expanded its neighborhood revitalization tax incentive district, and commissioners said they are hopeful that will have positive results.

“I personally think for us to do any more than (expanding) neighborhood revitalization would be just crazy on our end. I think it’s working; we need to give it time,” Mayor Shaun Musil said. “I think, though, if we’re going to continue a push for retail — and I think we have some coming, it sounds like ... those are jobs that pay $10, $11 an hour. And that’s an issue. It’s hard to afford to live in a lot of these apartments that are decent apartments on that wage.”

Commissioners also held a 15-minute executive session, which included Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development Director Aaron White, to discuss possible acquisition of real property. No action was taken.

Commissioner Lance Jones and Vice Mayor James Meier were absent.

The full housing study can be viewed online at haysusa.com.