City asked to donate lots for housing project

The Hillsboro City Council was asked at its July 21 meeting to consider donating city-owned residential lots for an affordable-housing project that would lead to at least five new homes.

Clint Seibel, executive director of the Hillsboro Ventures Inc., said the move could help make the homes even more affordable for participants while at the same time helping the city financially.

Seibel said he and other city leaders met recently with the director of Mennonite Housing Rehabilitation Services Inc., based in Wichita, about launching a project in Hillsboro similar to one the non-profit organization has started in Hesston.

The ?Self Help Housing? program, which combines the ?sweat equity? of the homeowners with subsidized loans through USDA Rural Develop?ment, would require a minimum of five houses to make it viable here, Seibel said.

Building five or more houses at the same time enables Menno?nite Housing to acquire materials in bulk, according to Seibel, and contributes to a sense of ?community? among owners, who contribute their labor until the completion of the entire project, not just their own house.

By donating lots, Seibel suggested, the city essentially becomes another partner in the project. The advantage to the city would be that it would no longer have to absorb the cost of maintaining the empty lots and would see five houses added to the tax rolls. He identified 13 residential lots the city currently owns, including nine it acquired in 2006 within the Willow Glen subdivision.

In addition to routine maintenance, the city pays the special assessments on those nine lots. The city would be relieved of that expense for each lot used in the program because it would be included in the owner?s building loan, Seibel said.

City Administrator Larry Paine said the annual expense to the city for all nine lots amounts to about $37,000 a year.

The city has the lots priced for sale at $5,000 a piece.

Most of the discussion that followed Seibel?s presentation focused on the Willow Glen scenario.

Councilor Kevin Suderman said he favored helping people become homeowners, but was hesitant to give lots away. He asked if some kind of cost-share approach was possible.

Seibel said the council needs to do whatever it feels is most advantageous for the city.

Councilor Bob Watson asked if the type of homes built by Mennonite Housing would complement the size and style of homes already in Willow Glen.

Seibel said the new houses would ?definitely fit very well.? Each would be at least 1,000 square feet with a full unfinished basement and a two-car garage. The floor plans originate with Rural Development and adhere to strict building specifications.

As an aside, Mayor Delores Dalke said she had used Rural Development floor plans to build ?spec? houses in the past, and found them to be popular with buyers.

?Even today, when one of those houses comes up for sale, it sells quickly,? she said.

Watson also asked if the new homeowners would blend well with their neighbors, given the program?s income restrictions.

Seibel said Mennonite Housing has found that people who invest their sweat equity together with fellow homeowners generally develop a stronger sense of community and take pride in maintaining their property.

Seibel told the council it didn?t need to make a decision about the program until its next regular meeting Aug. 4.

The following day, Aug. 5, a meeting is planned from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Scout House in Memorial Park for anyone interested in learning more about participating in the program.

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