As part of federal COVID-19 relief packages passed in the last 18 months, Lawrence and Douglas County are poised to take in millions of dollars this year that can be used to address chronic homelessness and aid in affordable housing solutions.
The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board on Monday gave an initial approval of the funding level it intends to allocate later this year to applicants focused on housing services — an increase of 175% over the funds that were available last year.
In 2020, hampered by a tighter budget and uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, AHAB had $450,000 available from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund at its disposal. This year, though, the board projects it will have $1.236 million to dole out.
“My thought is if the funds are available, then we should be spending them and trying to get them on the road as fast as possible,” Monte Soukup, the board’s chair, said during the meeting on Monday. “I’m going to suggest we use whatever funding is available.”
Though the board won’t take final action on its 2021 Affordable Housing Trust Fund Notice of Funding Opportunity for a few months, all members present Monday agreed with Soukup’s goal of using every dollar that’s available to address affordable housing issues in the city.
The Lawrence City Commission is scheduled to approve the final Notice of Funding Opportunity guidelines on Oct. 19, and funding applications will be due on Nov. 30, according to a timeline presented during the meeting.
The board also agreed on removing a stipulation in the smaller round of funding available in 2020 that just 33% of the $450,000 available would be targeted toward existing housing solutions, which members indicated was in place due to various pandemic-related uncertainties.
In other Affordable Housing Advisory Board news:
• Lea Roselyn, affordable housing administrator for the city of Lawrence, told board members that discussions on a fair housing ordinance for the city are continuing, and that Soukup and the chair of Lawrence’s Human Relations Commission will meet soon and discuss next steps for how best to move forward.
• Board member Cole Browne, an at-large representative, was removed from his position after missing several meetings. Soukup said city staff had made multiple efforts to contact Browne, but had been unsuccessful. All but one member voted in favor of removing Browne from the board, though all expressed sadness and regret at having to do so. Browne’s position will be filled through an appointment from Mayor Brad Finkeldei.
• At the board’s next meeting, Aug. 9, members will receive a presentation from city staff regarding a list of identified properties for potential affordable housing development. The board is also scheduled to continue evaluating its 2021 Housing Trust Fund Notice of Funding Opportunity and will discuss this year’s project priorities and the process for approval.
Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.