Wichita gets federal approval to start selling some of its public housing units

KMUW | By Celia Hack

The city has been working to dispose of its 352 single-family public housing units since January 2022.

Wichita will begin the process of selling part of its single-family public housing stock after receiving long-awaited approval from the federal government.

“This is really a once in a generation opportunity to add affordable housing stock to the private market,” Sarah Gooding, a real property section manager with the city of Wichita, said at a city board meeting in August. “Many of these homes are at the lower end of the price range. We’re hoping to see affordable homes for first-time buyers and affordable rentals.”

The city announced in January 2022 that it would split its 352 single-family public housing units into several groups and sell them.

The first 37 units approved for sale are scattered across the city and are appraised at an average of about $88,000. More than one-third of the homes are vacant. Those will hit the market in a couple weeks, wrote Megan Lovely, a city spokesperson. The houses will be sold through the city’s real estate office, which will market the units.

“The city’s real estate department has already created postcards that are going to go to every registered Realtor in the state,” said Sally Stang, the city’s housing director, at a city board meeting in July.

The rest of the units are occupied by tenants, who had the option to make the first offer on the homes. Two tenants are working to purchase the homes.

The others will receive a 90-day notice to vacate and a housing voucher to help with rent at a private apartment complex. City staff have to identify at least one unit that tenants can consider relocating to.

Danielle Lenz lives in one of the homes that will soon be up for sale. She initially considered buying it but changed her mind due to the house’s poor condition: no carpet, a leaky roof, rotting windows, broken door frames.

“I’ve decided I don’t want to have any part in the house because why buy something I’m going to eventually have to fix myself,” Lenz said.

“It’s not just with me. A lot of people don’t want to buy their homes, and they can’t really sell their homes to us because they need too much work. … They can’t put all that money to fix what they need.”

Cities across the country are deciding to get out of public housing as the federal money that funds the units has failed to keep up with need. The U.S. public housing stock needs $25.6 billion in repairs, a reality that means many of Wichita’s public housing units are dilapidated.

So Lenz and her four kids will receive a housing voucher to move into a privately-owned unit. But she said leaving the neighborhood she’s been in for 11 years won’t be easy.

“My kids grew up here,” Lenz said. “Now my youngest son is starting kindergarten. … The bus picks him up in front of the house and takes him to school. It’s just…I love the neighborhood. It’ll be a lot. I won’t want to leave.”

Wichita’s decision to sell the homes came after years of uncertainty around the future of the city’s public housing stock.

In 2017, the city pursued a federal program that converts public housing properties into privately-owned properties where tenants receive federal rental assistance. This type of project allows local housing authorities to get private financing to rehabilitate housing units that need lots of repairs.

Around the same time, the city stopped accepting applications for new public housing tenants. The number of occupied units dropped precipitously over the years, hitting 49% in 2021.

Celia Hack/KMUW No trespassing signs are attached to many of the public housing units.

After two years pursuing the conversion program, the city found it couldn’t secure financing for its single-family public housing units. The homes were too scattered throughout the city.

The city regrouped in 2021, when $72.4 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act came to Wichita. The city put $5 million of it toward an affordable housing fund, which would make money available to nonprofit and for-profit developers to rehabilitate affordable homes or build new ones.

The fund would prioritize investment in the city’s public housing units that go up for sale.

While the city plans to sell the first 37 units without any affordability restrictions, it has more complex plans for the rest of the units. In September 2022, the City Council passed a resolution that laid out plans for the rest of the 352 homes:

  • 235 homes within the city’s center could qualify for a subsidy from the affordable housing fund to be rehabilitated or renovated. Most of these would be sold through a request for proposal process where developers could propose their plans for the houses. 
  • 35 homes are outside of the city’s center in west Wichita. The city aims to sell these through a request for proposal and add affordability restrictions.
  • 45 homes in South City would be rehabilitated using remaining federal public housing capital funds and then sold. 

Gooding said at a city board meeting that the housing department is aiming to ensure some of South City homes are owner-occupied.

“Our goal right now is affordable homeownership. So we are actively reaching out to partners, lenders and others,” Gooding said. “Spread the word please: We are looking for qualified buyers who might be interested in these units.”

In an email, Stang said the groupings of houses are subject to change as the city undergoes environmental reviews of the units and other circumstances fluctuate.

Funds from the sale of the houses have to be spent on affordable housing activities, according to a statement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which approved the sale. Stang said the proceeds are expected to go toward the affordable housing component of a new homeless services center that the city is currently planning.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW