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Posted on: January 30, 2024

Housing a Critical Community Issue

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First, I want to commend both the city’s elected officials and the city staff for recognizing how important housing is to our economic future and working diligently to identify programs that could help communities like Manhattan and by extension, Riley and Pottawatomie County. This has been at the forefront of our policy initiatives for well over a year as state programs like the Reinvestment Housing Incentive District (RHID) and the Moderate Income Housing program (MIH) expanded eligibility from strictly rural areas to communities like Manhattan.

Housing has become an incredible challenge across the country for a variety of reasons. In Manhattan, we know we have a shortage of homes. In fact, we are at about one-third in terms of listings from pre-covid numbers. We also know the costs are increasing at an unsustainable level as the average sale price in Riley County increased by $40,000 from 2021 to 2023. This represents a nearly 17% increase in just two years.

And if you think it doesn’t affect you because you already own a home, think about what those price increases do to valuations on current properties. The escalation of home prices is, in essence, a hidden property tax increase on existing residents.

The good news from last week’s work session was that it was almost unanimous from the many people in attendance as well as the city commission that we need to do something.

The Chamber believes that we should be willing to take an “all of the above” approach to try and address the supply problem. We identified three critical areas  on which the city and other governing bodies could take action to help spur economic growth and prosperity by facing this challenge.

  • Be flexible in considering federal and state programs. It would be ideal for the market to take care of this. But we are discovering that attracting capital into markets now requires communities to be generally supportive of programs like RHID and MIH, among others, to attract residential construction dollars.
  • Think outside of the box on zoning. We have many opportunities for infill which would not require massive investments in new infrastructure. The Chamber believes that the opportunity to look at solutions to create better density while maintaining the integrity of the neighborhoods is important.
  • Encourage more students to enter technical and trades programs. The Manhattan Area Technical College expansion will double our capacity in certain trades important to construction. We have to be intentional in our efforts to get more students engaged in these programs. 

Addressing this problem isn’t easy, but it will probably be the most important thing we do as a community over the next one to three years. We have to make it easier for people to move here if we are going to continue to grow and prosper.

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