Wichita residents, housing experts discuss city housing issues

by: Zena Taher

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita residents and housing experts spoke about housing issues in the city Monday night. The Wichita Journalism Collaborative, which KSN is part of, hosted the event.

A panel took questions from the audience and discussed the need for more homes in the community. The panel consisted of: Danielle Johnson, Executive Director of Wichita Habitat for Humanity, Dr. Stanley Longhofer, Professor and Director of Wichita State University Center for Real Estate, Pete Najera, President and CEO of United Way of the Plains, and Sally Stang, Director of Housing and Community Services for the city of Wichita.

Watch panel discussion (36 minutes)

The housing inventory in Wichita dominated the discussion at the community listening session. The city estimates that our area needs up to 50,000 housing units, both affordable and otherwise, to meet the housing needs of our community.

Longhofer says some of the need could be addressed with smaller twin homes, duplexes or townhomes, which could require zoning changes. He also said it is important to renovate housing in the community.

“As we find solutions and as we develop new affordable housing, how are we making sure that housing stays quality in the future and we’re maintaining it,” said Longhofer.

“We have an aging housing stock and a lot of those homes get mowed down, so what do we do to save the housing stock that already exists and make sure they’re all livable and stable,” asked Johnson.

Habitat for Humanity in Wichita saw 102 applicants in 2023, but the organization averages building 15-16 new homes a year, Johnson said.

Najera said the United Way has been looking into the issues of housing and wage growth, saying the current numbers suggest a family unit of four needs to take home an average of $29 per hour to be able to afford housing.

“Over the last 20 years the cost of rent or housing has gone up about 135-140% and wages have only kept up by about 70%,” said Najera. “People who are employed don’t have enough to cover housing and can’t save enough to prevent an eviction.”

Stang said another issue is the cost to build a home in some neighborhoods, compared to how it will be valued in an appraisal.

“What investor is going to come in and build a single-family home for $220,000 to have it appraised for $140,000, nobody does that,” said Stang. “We need to make changes to make sure that we’re building up neighborhoods so that all neighborhoods feel that their homes are increasing in value, they’re building that family wealth that can build the next generation.”

Habitat builds 5-bedroom homes that would cost an equivalent of $182,000, keeping costs lower thanks to donated labor and supplies. But Johnson says their homes are appraised closer to $165,000 in the Rock the Block area.

“There is a limit to how inexpensive new housing can be developed,” said Longhofer, citing the increase in building costs. “Most of what we talk about with affordable housing really is just filtering down of the older housing stock for people who have moved up.”

Those who attended the session had their own concerns for the community.

“I believe housing is the most important thing to stabilize our community, and I know we don’t have enough of it,” said Ann Fox, who attended the listening session.

Fox says creating more housing is a critical part of helping Wichita grow.

“We love to have single-family housing in this community, and we really need to have multi-family housing and many other options for people across the spectrum of life,” said Fox.

Affordability is another need that William Vann says Wichita lacks.

“It might be something as small as two bedrooms and one bath; if those houses are available, and they can be saved and salvaged and rehabbed in time, we can create home ownership at an affordable price,” said Vann.

Others, like Jonathan Roper, say the housing crisis can be helped by the city’s encouragement of people to start their own businesses.

“Yes, it is hard; creating a business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but so is living paycheck to paycheck. So how does the city incentivize people to take a risk and make sure they have a safety net?” Roper said.

Feedback from the community is helping members of the collaborative guide future reporting.

“The goal is to elevate the collaborative’s reporting so we can really create a clearer picture of what the housing landscape and challenges are in Wichita so we can serve the community better,” said Maren Berblinger, journal engagement manager.

This article was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, which includes KSN-TV and 10 other organizations and community groups.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KSNW-TV