By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
First there was a school at 18th and Locust streets, then a day care center, but now nothing. Purchased by the city of Pittsburg, the block has been vacant for more than two years, but it could soon be bubbling with life once again.
“We’ve tried several things, and hopefully this is exactly what it is supposed to be used for,” said Deena Hallacy, Pittsburg’s community development and housing specialist. “We need places for people to live.”
In August, the City Commission approved a request by Hallacy to embark on a plan that would build 10 new homes in the empty block for those who meet income guidelines.
The Kansas Housing Resources Corp. offered up $2.3 million in funding to address the need for housing, and Pittsburg is among eight Kansas cities that will share that money. The city plans to use its $280,000 share for the Locust Street project.
“Our goal is to create an environment which helps communities grow their economies, businesses excel and working families find safe, quality housing they can afford,” said Dennis Mesa, executive director of the state agency.
Hallacy said the money will be used to relocate an existing sewer line, put in an alley, run sewer and water lines to each home, and help homeowners with closing costs to make the homes more affordable.
“We’re ready for this process to get under way,” she said.
On the market
The block had been for sale since the Family Resource Center, which was housed in the former Lincoln Elementary School, was razed in 2010. The city acquired the property with revolving loan funds and tried to come up with a solution for it. Initially, it was put on the market for development.
“We had no bites,” Hallacy said.
In the wake of the May 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., the City Commission grappled with whether to build a community safe room on the site, using funds from the Kansas Department of Emergency Management. No consensus could be reached, and the city tabled that idea.
Last spring’s Pittsburg Imagine 2030 project, which surveyed businesses and individuals in order to establish long-term priorities, noted a housing shortage in the city. Employers reported that a lack of housing sometimes meant their employees lived in communities just across the border in Missouri.
The money that Crawford County households have to spend on housing also is an issue. The estimated median household income in 2009 was $34,616 in the county, compared with the statewide level of $47,817, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And, the choices for homeownership are slim, Hallacy said; 54 percent of the homes in Pittsburg are rentals.
Compounding the issue, the city was notified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office that as of Sept. 30, the community would no longer qualify for USDA rural housing assistance funds because the 2010 census put the population at slightly more than 20,000 people.
“Developing this block (of Locust Street) seems like a win-win for everyone,” said City Manager Daron Hall.
The block has been divided into 10 lots. The homes will be at least 900 square feet, and each will have rear garage access through the alley in order to create a pleasing appearance from the street.
A site plan and home plans have been created by three students in the Kansas State University College of Architecture, Planning & Design. They shared their design concepts and models with the public during a community housing meeting last Thursday.
“We wanted to present designs for long-lasting, durable homes that are built with sustainable practices and would blend into the neighborhood,” said student Scott Davis.
Some elements of the modern design that he showed Louise Forehand, a longtime neighborhood resident, met with her approval, although she preferred the more traditional designs of student Greg Kimball.
“I think they look pretty good,” Forehand said. “I have seen a lot of changes on that block, and I think this will be a plus. It’s such a nice neighborhood, and I was anxious about what they would look like.”
Hallacy said no decisions have been made on whether the students’ designs will be used or if they will be asked to modify them.
“We do need to key in on a design, but it is hard to say what that will be,” she said. “We still are getting input. But we absolutely are ready to get under way. I expect we will be breaking ground by next spring.”
A two-person family would have to have an annual income of between $22,195 and $55,488 to qualify for one of the homes. For a four-person family to qualify, the income range would be $32,640 to $81,600.