Local, cross-sector collaboration addresses affordable housing shortage through health equity lens

Sep 05, 2023
| Posted in
Janee Hanzlick at Kansas Housing Conference

Cities and counties across the nation are experiencing a shortage of safe, affordable housing, but each community’s path to addressing the challenge is unique. In Johnson County, Kansas, a cross-sector collaboration is seeing success after launching a multiyear, multipronged initiative that identified safe, attainable housing as the foundation for healthy communities.

Last month's Kansas Housing Conference showcased the county’s efforts as a model other communities can learn from and possibly replicate.

“In 2017, we began building a unique leadership team that included different voices and different experiences — people not traditionally involved in housing,” said Kristy Baughman, executive director of United Community Services (UCS) of Johnson County. “We wanted to think bigger, so we brought together health care and service providers, employers, business leaders, school districts and faith communities. And involving the county from the beginning was important.”

Kristy Baughman from United Community Services of JOCO
Kristy Baughman, executive director of United Community Services (UCS) of Johnson County

“Ten percent of what makes us healthy or unhealthy is our physical environment,” said Janeé Hanzlick, commissioner for Johnson County, Kansas, and co-chair of the Greater Kansas City Regional Housing Partnership. “Where we live determines how easy it is to access jobs, what kinds of chemical agents we’re exposed to and if we live in a community where we feel safe and have social connections.” 

Johnson County presenters
Janeé Hanzlick, commissioner for Johnson County, Kansas

Analyzing current and future housing needs

Community stakeholders, led by UCS and funded by cities and the county, provided input for the Johnson County Housing Study, which analyzed the county’s current and future needs for affordable, workforce housing options to bridge gaps in housing demand and supply. The partnership also created the Housing for All Toolkit, an evidence-based, go-to resource designed to equip local municipalities with strategies to take action in their own communities. 

“None of us have all the answers, but we approached Johnson County’s housing challenges from a strategic and evidence-based position,” said Hanzlick, who also serves as first vice chair for the MARC Board of Directors. “We created a six-part housing continuum that identified groups of people experiencing chronic, long-term homelessness, to cost-burdened renters, to homeowners struggling to stay in their home.”

Stakeholders also developed a compelling narrative around housing. “We stressed the perspective of employers who have to recruit staff members from as far away as Lawrence and the impact the housing shortage has on our economy and school districts,” said Baughman. “How do we replenish and strengthen our schools if families with young children can’t afford to live here?” 

In addition to the cross-sector outreach and building a housing narrative, commissioners looked at what role the county could play in meeting the community’s housing needs. “We couldn’t ignore this information,” said Hanzlick. “We formed a housing subcommittee to work on the issue, spent months talking to community stakeholders and learned what other counties around the country were doing.” 

Turning recommendations into action

Recommendations covered three target objectives – addressing homelessness, preserving existing housing, and developing attainable housing and homeownership opportunities. 

Ongoing action steps include:

  • Expanding and enhancing information about existing housing resources.
  • Supporting community efforts to create a homeless shelter.
  • Increasing availability of minor and major home repair assistance.
  • Improving the functionality of the county’s online housing resource platform.
  • Removing barriers to developing long-term affordable housing.
  • Developing homeownership opportunities.
  • Establishing a funding source and administrative mechanism for a housing trust fund.
Megan Foreman Johnson County Kansas
Megan Foreman, Housing Coordinator, Johnson County, Kansas

“Housing is central to a person’s health and well-being,” said Megan Foreman, the county’s new housing coordinator working to bridge emerging housing policies with existing programs and bring together community stakeholders. “Where you live and work, where you raise your family — it’s the core of your stability. From the employer’s standpoint, it’s hard to run a business if you don't have bus drivers or food service folks, or you don't have nurses or teachers – the essential workers our communities rely on,” said Foreman.

Increasing investment in affordable housing

One important strategy Johnson County implemented involved increasing investments in housing units built specifically to be affordable for low-income households. 

Examples include:

The Prairiebrooke Townhomes in Gardner, Kansas, offer 76 duplex-style townhomes. The county allocated $1 million in HOME funds to support construction of the development. Sixty of the proposed townhomes will be for households earning below 60% of the area median income (AMI). Six of the units will be HOME assisted units for families earning below 50% AMI. The remaining units will be market-rate townhomes.

Prairiebrooke Townhomes
affordable housing shawnee kansas

Hedge Lane Apartments in Shawnee, Kansas, will be a 144-unit garden-style apartment community. The county provided a 15-year, no-interest $1 million loan with recaptured lost revenue COVID-19 funds to cover a gap in project funding. The project is also funded with 4% low-income housing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds.

Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City is also working to build 14 single-family homes in Olathe, Kansas. The county allocated $950,000 to support site infrastructure for the development. Qualified buyers would pay no more than 30% of their income. 

Additional programs implemented by the county include incentivizing landlords to start accepting housing choice vouchers, offering a risk mitigation fund for landlords and launching an eviction mediation pilot program. 

Working regionally to address affordable housing issues

Both Hanzlick and Baughman serve on the Greater Kansas City Regional Housing Partnership's Strategy Committee and understand the importance of sharing their insight with other communities and working collaboratively across the region.

“Housing is an economic development issue, as well as a social, planning and transportation issue,” said Hanzlick. “Addressing the affordable housing challenge collaboratively, whether locally or across the region, helps cities and counties gain a common understanding of the problems and potential solutions.”

“We are so connected as a region that nobody can do this work by themselves and be wholly successful,” said Baughman. “When we all come together, share our experiences and help each other, that collaboration often leads to solutions we might never think of on our own.”

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