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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Low-income housing open

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  • Housing units for people with low incomes typically are full, with some even maintaining waiting lists.

    But despite a tough economy, some Newton low-income housing providers say they have unexpected vacancies.

    Newton seems to be dodging a bullet in what amounts to a nationwide shortage of housing for low-income households.

    Nationally, there are an estimated 6 million rental units available for the extremely low income, said Brad Schmidt who runs Prairie View’s housing program for low-income mentally ill clients.

    However, there are an estimated 9 million extremely low-income residents who need that housing.

    Marilyn King, director of independent living and marketing for Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton, along with other property managers, said they need help getting the word out that units are available.

    Kidron Bethel usually is full but had vacancies in four fourplexes as of November.

    Dorothy Stealey lives in a fourplex at Kidron.

    She says her duplex is just the right size for her, and she likes the added privacy the fourplex affords.

    However, she was on a waiting list for a year before the apartment opened up.

    King said she thinks there are people in the community who may be eligible for low-income housing or rental assistance but are not aware they qualify for programs.

    “We have been advertising for a while,” King said. “We have put up posters in service agencies. We think there are people in the community who could benefit from this, but we are not reaching them. They do not understand.”

    Kidron provides housing for adults who are 62 or older. Many seniors think their assets will count against them, King said. They do not. Rent is based on income.

    Seniors do not have to give up their assets, such as saving accounts or CDs, to qualify for housing, King said.

    In addition, many housing programs allow seniors or other low-income renters to deduct medical expenses from their income.

    Kidron renters pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income in rent. A single renter must make $21,400 or less, and a couple must make $24,500 or less to qualify for a spot in Kidron’s low-income program.

    Residents in the fourplexes also get utility allowances.

    Kidron also provides amenities like a laundry, beauty salon, fitness center and dining services in Kidron’s main building.

    Newton Plaza, which also provides housing for seniors, usually has one or two vacancies this time of year. As of November, they had five vacancies.

    “I really think what we are seeing is a trend,” said Debbie Shepherd, Plaza manager. “People heading into their senior years don’t need low-income (housing).”

    However, Shepherd echoed King’s sentiment, saying she too thought people had misconceptions about qualifying for housing.

    “We do need to get the info out. It is widely misunderstood. You don’t have to give up everything to live in low-income housing,” she said.

    Residents can make up to $34,250 and still obtain housing at the Plaza. The amount of rent also is based on income.

    The Plaza also can take a percentage of residents who are younger than 62 but are disabled. Shepherd said she is usually over her quota for disabled renters.

    To qualify for housing, renters must fill out applications and submit to a criminal background check.

    Although the market for younger households in need of low-income housing seems to be tighter than that for the elderly, vacancies are available.

    Whereas in metro areas waiting lists can be months, a year or longer.

    When the Kansan contacted the Newton Housing Authority, director Barb Martin said the agency had two- and four-bedroom homes available.

    “It is unusual for us to have vacancies here especially looking at the economy,” Martin sad. “We kind of wonder where the people are.”

    Amy Simmons, manager at South Park Apartments, said their complex, which has 128 units, has had a good year. The complex has remained full most of the time but had two vacancies when the Kansan recently contacted them.

    Rent is based on income for all but 10 apartments in the complex. A family of four must make less than $36,720 to qualify.

    Location and management also can be factors in vacancies.

    Belmont Management Co. took over the Turkey Red Apartments a year ago at which time the apartments were at 50 percent capacity. The complex is now at 90 percent capacity.

    Regional manager Kathryn Darner said Belmont has been more aggressively marketing the property and plans upgrades, including new carpet and updated appliances to be installed in the spring.

    Darner, who manages 21 sites for Belmont, said location often dictates if a complex is operating at capacity.

    In southeast Kansas, the company always has wait lists, but in western Kansas, the apartments usually have vacancies.

    Darner said she and the company’s site managers have been working with area homeless shelters to try to get the word out about the availability of low-income housing, saying the effort has made “a huge difference” in keeping properties full.

    Not all low-income housing units in Newton have openings. Both Walnut Meadows and Sunset Townhouses, which both offer section eight housing, reported being full.

    Prairie View administers several programs to assist mentally-ill residents with housing, and it has a mixture of vacancies and wait lists in their programs, said Schmidt, director of adult residential services and housing program coordinator.

    He said it is a matter of finding the right program to fit with the right client.

    “We have more need than what we are able to qualify,” he said.

    All the beneficiaries of the Prairie View programs suffer from severe and persistent mental illness. Most of those clients have very low incomes, some surviving on SSI, which is about $600 per month.

    Schmidt said government payments to these disabled residents have not kept up with the housing market, and, without rental assistance, the clients could not afford to live in decent homes.

    “Most of the time the paths for these people either leads to homelessness or living with family members,” he said.

    Schmidt said appropriate housing is a lynch pin to meaningful recovery for mentally-ill clients.

    “It is incredibly important to have stable housing,” he said. “It is a cornerstone of recovery. It is one of a number of equally important facets of recovery. However, critical housing is often overlooked as a key component. More emphasis needs to be put on that.”

    These programs, funded by the Kansas Housing Resource Cooperative, function like section eight. Clients live in private residences rented on the open market but receive subsidies to help pay for rent.

    Qualifying individuals pay 30 percent of their monthly incomes.

    Clients can be referred through mental-health workers or make self-referrals. However, they must show proof they have qualifying disabilities.

    “We get calls every day of people who need assistance, but they may not meet the criteria,” Schmidt said

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