August 29, 2012

Sedgwick County Commission applies for grant to rehab Oaklawn homes

Jim Skelton wants to help people who live in Oaklawn — but he’s not so sure he wants to help landlords who rent to people who live in Oaklawn.

Jim Skelton wants to help people who live in Oaklawn — but he’s not so sure he wants to help landlords who rent to people who live in Oaklawn.

The Sedgwick County commissioner voted Wednesday to apply for a community development block grant of $400,000 to rehabilitate homes in Oaklawn.

But he said he didn’t like the idea of using grant money to upgrade rental homes. Landlords should be responsible for making homes livable, he said.

“I don’t think irresponsible landlords are worthy of this,” Skelton told The Eagle later.

The $400,000 grant would rehabilitate 18 homes, with each project averaging about $20,000, said Dorsha Kirksey, executive director of the county’s housing department.

The grant would require landlords to contribute a minimum of 25 percent. The county, as the applicant, must put up $100,000 as a guarantee.

The county could recoup the $100,000 from landlords if it agrees to rehabilitate rental properties as part of the grant.

About 55 percent of people living in Oaklawn rent, Kirksey said.

Some of Oaklawn’s homes were in disrepair before an April 14 tornado tore through south Wichita, Kirksey said. The tornado damaged or destroyed 257 houses and 130 mobile homes.

Insurance may have covered damage from the tornado but didn’t address problems that were already present at some homes, she said.

Skelton said he didn’t think taxpayer money should benefit landlords who don’t keep homes in good repair.

“It does not seem appropriate to subsidize that kind of activity with CDBG money,” he said.

The value of housing in Oaklawn is less than 90 percent of the housing in all Kansas neighborhoods, Kirksey told commissioners. Many of the homes were built in the 1950s and have “already outlived” their expectations, she said.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau said he was concerned about putting $20,000 into a house not valued at much more than that.

He was the only commissioner to vote against applying for the grant, saying he had too many concerns and felt too pressed to make a decision without much time. The board voted 4-1 to approve it.

Commissioners were upset that they didn’t get an earlier heads-up about the grant application. It wasn’t on the commission’s agenda, and commissioners had to accept it as an off-agenda item to make a Thursday application deadline.

That’s because staff was so involved in working on the grant application that they forgot to put it on the board’s schedule, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said.

Skelton voiced several times his frustration with having to make a decision about whether to promise a $100,000 matching grant without much information.

“I think it’s important that we do not do this again as staff,” he told Kirksey.

Bob Dix, secretary of the Oaklawn Improvement District, said he didn’t learn about the grant until the day before the commission considered it.

“I guess it would be a good idea,” he said.

But he agreed with Skelton that he didn’t think landlords should benefit from improvements. They should pay for them themselves, he said.

The grant money, if approved, should “go to the people who need it,” he said.

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