Lawrence City Commission approves $1.2M for Tenants to Homeowners to purchase land near Holcom Park

Jul 12, 2023 | News


Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday agreed to a $1.2 million expense to help Tenants to Homeowners acquire land near Holcom Park to potentially build workforce housing.

The 8.8-acre site just north of Holcom Park at 2600 W. 25th St. could become the site of roughly 60 to 80 single and multifamily housing units that would target residents whose incomes are 10% to 80% of the area median income, or AMI, according to the meeting agenda. That’s a maximum of $53,000 per year for a household of one, $75,700 for a household of four.

Some neighbors submitted written public comments with concerns about the process and lack of public engagement prior to TTH purchasing the land from the Lawrence school district and the city providing funding for the purchase.

Jane Eldredge requested the item be pulled from the commission’s consent agenda.

“We are asking you to require the Tenants to Homeowners to have a meeting with the public — particularly have a meeting with the neighborhood,” Eldredge said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence TimesJane Eldredge speaks to Lawrence city commissioners, Tuesday, June 11, 2023.

Lea Roselyn, affordable housing administrator, told commissioners that as the agenda item notes, community engagement would be critical and vital to the planning component of the project.

However, “It is premature to do vigorous neighborhood engagement before the property is even acquired by Tenants to Homeowners and would result in them spending extra time and resources prematurely,” Roselyn said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence TimesLea Roselyn, affordable housing administrator, speaks to Lawrence city commissioners on July 11, 2023.

Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners, said site control is required for any of the grant funding TTH could bring in for development. She said it would be an irresponsible use of funds to start the planning and development process before the nonprofit even owns the land.

“I am not going to get an architect to draw plans on a site I do not own,” she said.

Buford said TTH will bring in the affordable housing development on its own — the organization isn’t expecting the city to pay for that — and if they can’t, they’ll give the city back the money and sell the property.

Deputy City Attorney Randy Larkin said the city could get the money back from TTH if the organization does not provide affordable housing, per the agreement. He said that hadn’t been an issue in the past.

Buford said data shows that newly constructed affordable housing does not lower property values in the area. For instance, some affordable homes on Beatnik Court in eastern Lawrence are selling right next door to other homes that are going for $350,000 and up.

She said mixed neighborhoods that include workforce housing where people can grow equity can actually increase the values of higher-income neighborhoods nearby, “because you now have people that want to move up into that and have the economic capacity to do that.”

Several affordable housing advocates spoke in favor of the agreement and asked the commission to approve it.

Ron Gaches, a former member of Lawrence’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board, asked commissioners not to put any barriers in the way of this project development that would not be in the way of a private developer.

Molly Adams / Lawrence TimesRon Gaches speaks to the Lawrence City Commission, July 11, 2023.

“This project is particularly important, I think, because of its scale,” Gaches said. “… We need projects of size, and this land acquisition allows us to do that.”

The land purchase is the very first step of the process. Jeff Crick, director of planning and development services, said the property is currently zoned for schools and public facilities.

“Anything that would be residential would have to go through the rezoning process, and very likely also through a platting process,” Crick said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence TimesJeff Crick, director of planning and development services, speaks to the commission.

“I trust that Tenants to Homeowners will work with the neighbors, even more so than required by the processes we have, because that’s what I’ve seen them do in the past,” Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said.

Commissioner Bart Littlejohn agreed and said he was confident that TTH will practice what they preach.

Mayor Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Courtney Shipley also concurred, and the commission voted 4-0 in favor of the agreement with TTH. Commissioner Amber Sellers was not present for the meeting.