Johnson County approves $1 million loan for ‘workforce housing’ development in Shawnee

The planned Hedge Lane development is slated to be built just west of K-7 and 75th Street. Image via Johnson County Papers.

A Shawnee apartment complex that will accept rent-reduced housing vouchers cleared a final construction hurdle on Thursday when the county commission issued a $1 million loan to the developer.

Why now? Developer Jason Swords had requested the loan to cover the funding shortfall caused by post-pandemic supply chain pressures and construction cost inflation.

  • The swords had already Kansas Low Income Housing Tax Credits this would pay about 40 percent of the project’s estimated cost of $30.5 million. Last year, the City of Shawnee approved tax incentives to exempt sales tax on building materials.
  • The loan is a non-interest bearing mortgage lien, to be repaid in annual installments of $10,000 over 14 years, with a lump sum payment in the 15th year.
  • At Thursday’s meeting, Swords told the commissioners the project could not go ahead without the additional loan.

The bigger picture: The loan was hailed by some as at least a small step in addressing the shortage of affordable housing in Johnson County for first responders, teachers, restaurant workers and others who may not have unable to afford market rates.

  • But the idea was also pushed back by some members of the public.

‘A thunderbolt’ : Several residents opposed to the approval of the loan shared their views during the commission meeting.

  • The idea that “they can’t do it if they don’t get another million dollars worth of interest free money – there’s a word for that. It’s called a shakedown,” said Maria Holiday of Overland Park, a real estate agent. She added that she was not against below-market housing, but was reluctant to use tax money: “I don’t want to pay for that.”

Other concerns: Others objected to various aspects of the design and its location, such as Abbie Rawie of the nearby Crystal Place subdivision, who expressed disappointment with the process.

  • “I really don’t trust a developer who tells the Shawnee City Council and citizens this is for teachers, firefighters and police officers. Let’s call it what it is – Section 8,” she said, referring to the former name of the low-income tax credit program.
  • This echoed another woman’s concerns about the resort’s lack of playground or green space for children, and she also disliked the design of the clubhouse.
  • “To me, this clubhouse looked very vanilla,” she said. “Our houses cost between $400,000 and $650,000 per block. I don’t want to walk past something that looks so vanilla.

Affordable housing needs: But some speakers said the project would be a welcome help in solving housing problems.

  • Jane Knoche, who also lives in the Crystal Place subdivision, said she has worked with the Johnson County Interfaith Welcome Networka group that helps people in housing need.
  • “The more you can do as county commissioners to provide lower-cost housing options, the easier it is for situationally homeless people to become productive, tax-paying citizens again,” she said. She urged adoption of the loan as a pilot program that could be scaled up.

Homelessness Prevention: Brian Hogan also read a statement of support from the Good Faith Network, an interfaith group that deals with homelessness in Johnson County, among other issues.

  • “We see the creation of affordable housing as a good homelessness prevention strategy,” he said. “We see this as an example of how Johnson County could come together to address an issue that was made so evident in the recent housing study by United Community Services.”

At least on the skeptical commissioner: Other speakers joined Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara in her skepticism of the project.

  • Such a loan would be new to the county and could set a bad precedent from other builders demanding similar treatment, she said.
  • “It’s a Christmas tree that just keeps on giving,” she said, adding that she favors for-profit projects. “They already have a bag full of treats and now they come and ask for another million dollars. The sweet scent of silver is all I can smell.

The developer defends the project: Commissioners said comments they had received since the plan emerged as a potential agenda item last week pointed to a lot of misinformation about the potential for a ‘sumlord’ moving in using materials at reduced cost for the building.

  • Swords said it plans to build a “Class A” workforce housing complex with 144 units that meets Shawnee’s requirements for amenities, including a swimming pool and gym.
  • He said the project was known to members of the Shawnee council: “There was zero point zero bait and change. It has been housing for the workforce since day one,” he said.

Supporting Commissioners: Commissioner Jeff Meyers, former mayor of Shawnee, said the area had been apartment-only since 1999.

  • The plan meets an Affordable Housing Commission goal, is fully secure, and poses extremely low risk to the county, he said.
  • Commissioner Becky Fast disputed the idea that the loan would cause other builders to line up. Tax credits for low-income people are extremely difficult to obtain and often go to rural areas, she said. Last year, only 12 projects in Kansas had them, and the year before, only nine. “It could be another five years before Johnson County gets a low-interest tax credit scheme.”

How they voted: In the end, the loan was approved 5-2, with O’Hara and commissioner Michael Ashcraft voting against.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who frequently reports for the Post and other Kansas City-area publications. You can reach her at [email protected]

Previous 4 reasons why a personal wedding loan can help you
Next Online Loans Market Size and Forecast