Need for affordable housing exists in Douglas County
- on June 11, 2012
When you look around Lawrence, especially near downtown or the campus of Kansas University, it appears that housing isn’t much of a problem. It seems like there are more apartments than KU students and not very many empty lots exist near the population center of Douglas County. But a glance at the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics paints a very different picture. (You can browse stats here.)
According to Habitat for Humanity International, 95 million people in the United States have some sort of housing problem, including overcrowding, poor shelter quality and homelessness. One issue that isn’t as prevalent is just how much of a person’s income goes toward paying for a mortgage or rent. In Douglas County, over 9,000 people spend more than 35 percent of their household income on rent. Of the more than 19,000 units being rented, HALF of tenants spend a third or more of their income to have a roof over their heads.
Renting is the way to go for a lot of people in Lawrence, especially since we’re a college town with a large co-ed population and plenty of apartments. The homeownership rate in Douglas County is 53.5 percent. When you look at Lawrence alone, that number drops to 46.7 percent. The median value of an owner-occupied housing unit is $176,500 in the county and $172,900 in Lawrence. Over 23 percent of the people residing in Lawrence live below the poverty level.
This is why Habitat for Humanity exists. The need is everywhere, including here in our backyard. Lawrence Habitat has given 79 families the chance to be homeowners since 1989. We’re working with our 80th family. And five families are in line for homes in the next few years. But Lawrence Habitat is running out of land. We have just a few lots left in Lawrence. We also have one in Eudora and one in Baldwin City.
A major misconception about Habitat for Humanity is that we just build homes and give them away. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lawrence Habitat partners with families that make between 30 and 60 percent of the local median income laid out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (More on that later.) Our partner families pay a zero-interest mortgage and closing costs on their home. Each adult in the family is also required to put in 225 hours of “sweat equity.” They help build their own home and the homes of other partner families.
When it comes to median income, Lawrence’s numbers are up there. For a family of four in Lawrence, the median income is $71,500. To put that into perspective here are how some other Kansas metropolitan areas line up:
Lawrence is much closer to Kansas City than it is to Topeka and Wichita, making housing even less affordable for low and moderate income families in Lawrence. The need exists and we need everyone’s help to provide safe and decent homes for those families trying to work toward the dream of owning a home. Next up – why home ownership is important and how affordable housing benefits the economy.