Here’s what Wichita journalists learned about the community’s housing challenges – and what they plan to do about it

By: Chris Green | Wichita Journalism Collaborative

Ensuring that Wichita residents of different circumstances can find affordable housing today and in the years to come doesn’t seem like an especially controversial proposition.

If there are people in Wichita opposed to keeping housing affordable here in principle, I have yet to meet them. But the details of how the community figures out how to make that ideal a reality can be challenging and complex.

More than 100 people attended a Wichita Journalism Collaborative listening session at the Kansas Leadership Center back in February. Residents heard from a panel of local experts and shared feedback about what they would like to see journalists in the community cover when it comes to housing.

In the weeks since, the collaborative, a coalition of 11 media and community partners, have been mulling over what to do about the insights that were shared that night. The problem? Housing is not about one problem but many, and there’s no switch you can flip or magic solution that makes the problem go away.

FIve Key Questions Emerged at Listening Session

That much was clear from what emerged during the listening session.The discussions were wide ranging but at least five key questions emerged in the comments of those assembled:

  • Why are home prices and rents increasing here?
  • Why isn’t there more affordable housing being built?
  • Why are so many houses falling into disrepair?
  • What are the root causes of homelessness in our community?
  • Why do many Wichitans not make enough to afford housing?

The WJC used ChatGPT, the AI chatbot, to help identify key themes. We then went back and used the raw notes from the meeting, which were recorded by people in the small groups, to verify the accuracy of those summaries and identify any key areas that weren’t captured in the questions. 

A few tidbits that caught our eyes. Zoning came up as a problem quite a bit in the comments we reviewed, suggesting policy and political barriers to building and maintaining the housing we need.

Others saw divisions in the community that must be addressed. One that came up multiple times is a divide between advocates for affordable housing and developers. “They see each other as the enemy,” one group reported.

In another conversation, a group noted: “Developers are left out of the conversation. They have a perspective and they are needed at the table. How can the government work with developers?” 

In-Depth Reporting Planned to Address Concerns

In hopes of beginning to answer the questions and concerns that emerged at the meeting, partners in the collaborative have outlined a series of stories that will be providing in-depth reporting over the next year, which will include several data-driven pieces using data obtained through public records requests.

The priorities that will be explored include:

  • Zoning
  • Roots of the housing crisis here
  • Social issues, such as blight
  • Developer-focused coverage
  • Barriers people finding and staying in a home
  • Providing resources that help inform about housing issues

We’ll Have More Listening Sessions

In addition, the collaborative is in the process of developing additional listening sessions to help us continue to hear from the community on this topic. If you have an idea for how the WJC can better cover housing or are interested in helping us host a listening session, please reach out to us through our contact form on the collaborative’s website.

Tell us what we are getting right, what we might be missing and if there is anything we are getting wrong. Your feedback will shape our coverage for the better.

The goal of the collaborative is to provide impactful journalism that leaves Wichita residents much better informed about the topic and empowered to push for solutions that would give the community more high-quality, affordable housing.

We hope that careful listening to the community, and reflecting what we hear back to check our understanding, will represent big steps toward that outcome.

Chris Green serves as the executive editor of The Journal, a civic issues magazine published by the Kansas Leadership Center. In addition to The Journal, the Wichita Journalism Collaborative includes The Active Age, The Community Voice, KMUW, KSN-TV, The Sunflower, The Wichita Beacon, The Wichita Eagle, the Wichita Public Library, Planeta Venus and The Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.

Maren Berblinger, Journal engagement manager, and Kathy Lefler, project coordinator for the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, also contributed to this story.