Letter to the Times: Turning neighborhoods into marketplaces without children

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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I read with interest the article about how Brook Creek Neighborhood is reacting to a mega 528-apartment complex proposed for an undeveloped wooded area on the far east side of Lawrence off of 15th Street. There already appear to be at least 120 large rental complexes in Lawrence, not including the innumerable duplexes and thousands of single-family housing rentals here.

As it happens, the city appears to be on the verge of making drastic changes in single-family zoning in the name of providing more “affordable housing.” However, there is a vast difference between affordable home ownership and affordable housing. There is a long-term financial advantage for cities to stabilize their modest housing stock and the infrastructure which already exists by utilizing district overlays that provide a level playing field for working families to buy into the market and become long-term residents.

The sheer diversity of modest housing here in Lawrence provides vertical layers of affordability in neighborhoods with the support infrastructure already in place. Central city residents tried 30 years ago to gain the city’s attention regarding the loss of modest housing stock to accelerated land-use change from owner-occupied to rentals, which in turn collapsed neighborhood infrastructure like groceries, family shops, schools and churches. We pointed to the collateral financial damage of increased city services like trash, water and sewage use, as well as police calls, serious property damage and the deterioration of homes never built to withstand heavy use. Traffic congestion and more pedestrians without sidewalks led to dangerous conditions for everyone.

After reading the article on this megacomplex apartment proposal, I again wrote to the city to instead create a district overlay of existing modest housing stock in central, east and north Lawrence. Few renters here can find the time to show up to school PTA meetings or neighborhood association events, let alone find the time to get to know their neighbors. That weight is carried by those who have a long-term vested interest in the neighborhood they took out the largest loan of their lives to live in. Landlord “investors” make hand over fist profits to rent these properties. It’s why the average rent here is $1,150 a month. Our 30-year mortgage cost half that!

All the elementary school closings in neighborhoods east of Iowa Street had bond improvements we have to pay on for years to come and undermined the viability of modest neighborhoods to remain intact around them. Adding the dissolution of single-family zoning into a sprawl of mixed-use infill development — let alone a 528-unit apartment complex — will turn neighborhoods into marketplaces without children. This is not affordable home ownership. Developers cannot provide diversity in affordable housing. Our city considers district overlays a “last ditch” effort that shouldn’t be used until every option available to developers is exhausted. This mega-complex is one such option. I believe these committees are making a terrible mistake in ignoring district overlays, before dumping this last-ditch plea to save what they already have.

— Deborah Snyder is a founding member of the Centennial Neighborhood Association, and was active in USD 497 as well as civic issues over the past 30-plus years. She has two accomplished daughters and tries to live quietly in retirement with her beloved husband and two dogs.

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