Residents raise concerns about housing idea

Three homeowners from the Willow Glen subdivision came to the Aug. 4 Hillsboro City Council to express concern about the city possibly donating vacant lots it owns there for an affordable-housing program.

In a prepared statement from ?residents and homeowners who live in the Willow Glen subdivision,? spokesman David Mathis, 200 Willow Glen, said the primary concern is the potential negative impact on property values if the project moves forward.

Also attending wre Stephanie Sinclair and Brenda Penner.

At the council?s July 21 meeting, Clint Seibel, executive director of Hillsboro Ventures Inc., had asked the council to consider donating city-owned residential lots to a program spear?headed by Mennonite Housing of Wichita in partnership with a subsidized-loan program through USDA?s Rural Development Administration.

In addition to the low-interest loan, program participants could choose to invest up to 20 hours of ?sweat equity? per week to help reduce construction costs.

Five lots would be required to bring the program to Hillsboro, Seibel said. The city owns 13 residential lots, nine of which are located in Willow Glen. The city earlier had set a purchase price of $5,000 per lot in Willow Glen.

?We hope that the council respects the manner in which we have collectively endeavored to maintain and grow our property values through the years, and that whatever would be entertained to remove the city?s property-tax burden not be at our expense,? Mathis read.

The city currently pays about $37,000 a year for the special assessments assigned to the nine lots in Willow Glen. Assessments assigned to each lot used in the program would become the obligation of the new homeowner.

During the discussion that followed the prepared statement, it wasn?t clear if, or how, the program would adversely affect property values within the subdivision.

In response to the homeowners? question about the quality of the new houses, Seibel repeated his assertion at the July 21 meeting that the style and quality would blend well with existing homes.

He said the average home would be around 1,000 square feet on the main floor, with an attached two-car garage and an unfinished basement. Each house would be built to stringent RDA guidelines.

Seibel estimated the minimum value of each home would be in the $120,000 range; the financial obligation to the homeowner, as the result of sweat equity, would be around $85,000 to $90,000.

Seibel said the sweat-equity component is optional; participants can use the low-interest RDA loan for the full cost of construction.

Mathis said he understood the city would gain financially by assigning the special assessments to property owners, but felt it would put existing homeowners at a financial disadvantage because of the free lot and low-interest loan.

?It would solve a city problem at our expense,? Mathis said.

Seibel said it was ?conjecture? to assume the program would have an adverse impact on property values.

Mathis asked, ?Do you think it is more likely or less likely to de-value (existing homes)??

?I don?t think it will (de-value),? Seibel said.

In the written statement, the homeowners asked if the ?lot donation? could be offered first to Willow Glen homeowners.

City Administrator Larry Paine said the program?s primary value to the city is to add new homes to the tax roll.

?It?s important that a house be built (on the city-owned lots),? Paine said. ?We?re not interested in giving them away just to get out of paying the specials.?

Mayor Delores Dalke said she appreciated the homeowners coming to the meeting to express their views, but it may be ?jumping the gun? to pursue the discussion in detail.

Dalke said the city is still in the exploration stage. The council has not endorsed the program yet, and it?s unknown if anyone is interested in participating.

Even if there is sufficient interest, she said based on her experience as a real-estate broker, working through RDA would assure that ?nothing will be happening very soon.?

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