The Associated Press

SALINA, Kan. — A state shortage of affordable housing is a problem that’s likely to get worse because of the mortgage crisis, social services officials say.

On any given night, about 18,000 homeless people are in Kansas, according to Topeka-based Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition. The national homeless count fell 11 percent last year, but advocates say the mortgage crisis is causing a turnaround.

Shara Gonzales, head of New Beginnings in Hutchinson, says the problem is attacking two groups: those who have settled into the system and can’t climb out, and the growing number who have lost their jobs, homes or both.

“This new mortgage crisis is going to make it worse. We just had two foreclosures (people who lost their homes to foreclosure) move into our low-income housing,” Gonzales said

It is a cycle that is compounded when communities try to lure new economic development, which would add jobs and expand the tax base. Lower income families feel the pinch, but so do middle-income professionals looking for housing. Some communities are using tax credits to boost home affordability and availability.

Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said communities that are able to boost their supply of affordable housing could see some economic benefits.

“If we could get housing more affordable in Salina, people could live here,” he said, rather than commuting.

Tax credits are more successful in urban areas of Kansas where incomes are higher. In some cases, landlords reduce rents below their return expectations to attract renters.

Another option is transitional housing for those looking for immediate shelter after losing a home or job is an option, for six to 24 months. That also includes assistance with rent and utilities to help with financial stability.

“We can immediately rehouse people within the rental community if they have resources,” Gonzales said. “If they don’t have financial resources, then we have to develop those. That’s what we use transitional housing for. It buys us time.”

Assistance across Kansas is uneven.

Kaleb Kentner, Garden City’s director of planning and community development, said those who lose their homes there can go to the Emmaus House, a nonprofit shelter home and food pantry, for three days. It can provide help to 24 to 30 people, depending on the size of families.

The lack of a next step in Garden City, however, forces needy folks down the road.

“We send a lot to Dodge City until they get on their feet,” Kentner said. “We have a pretty bad shortage of housing in Garden City, especially rental property ... close to 98 percent occupancy. Then when you tack on the affordability factor, it makes it extremely difficult to find locations.”

One reason the problem has been tough to solve is that the community can’t find residential builders and developers willing to construct more homes. Gonzales said business leaders have to see housing as infrastructure vital to economic growth.

Dennis Lauver, president and chief executive officer of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, said having a desirable community doesn’t do any good for economic development.

“If you can’t get people to live in your labor areas, that becomes a problem for employers who need a quantity and quality of work force,” he said.

Tax credits help builders by reducing the tax liability of those investing in housing projects. The number of credits is up in Kansas, a change from 15 years ago, when Kansas couldn’t get rid of its inventory of tax credits,” said Richard Jackson, chief executive officer of the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp.

Lauver said he sees creating more options for middle-income buyers as one solution. By giving second-time home buyers more choices to purchase slightly more expensive homes, Lauver said, those homeowners could move up and open up less expensive housing for those renting.

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