John Hall has lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Hall is the director of Housing and Community Services Department of the City of Wichita, and early this month, he received notice of the City’s admission in a new Rental Assistance Demonstration Pilot Program, that will allow the City to renovate all 578 of the City’s public housing units.
A $60 million investment into the housing stock for the City’s poorer residents is transformative, says Hall, who can clearly see the bigger picture.
On a basic level, the project is about much needed improvements in the City’s public housing stock. However, it’s also about jobs and job training opportunities, payroll dollars turned over in the community and even the pride that comes with having some where nice to live.
“Our neighborhoods will receive an extreme makeover, participants will have the opportunity to live in newly renovated homes and the local economy will experience a boost,” said Hall.
The RAD pilot initiative provides Public Housing Authorities with access to long term funding so that needed improvements can be completed. Public housing units across the country need more than $26 million in repairs, however Congress has not provided enough funding for Housing Authorities to keep up with capital improvement needs.
RAD allows Housing Authorities to recapitalize properties using financing products as well as private partnerships.
Hall said pulling off a massive redeveloped projects of this level will require considerable coordination and during a City Council meeting held earlier this month, the City approved a contract with a consulting firm, the Gil Group, to help coordinate the project. The Gil Group was also involved in getting the City’s application for the RAD program completed and approved.
The next step is completing an assessment of the city’s existing housing units to gain a better understanding of their physical condition, and to develop a scope of services to be performed. The City has 578 public housing units: two high rises, two garden style apartment complexes and 352 single family homes.
There are a lot of other steps before construction begins: Securing the financing, identifying and contracting with potentially multiple developers, developing a construction plan and schedule, and gaining a better understanding of the kind of improvements the tenants would like to see in the properties.
Hall has a few ideas of his own. He’d like to see some “green” energy efficiency improvements as part of the project.
“That will help us reduce our utility cost,” he said. Speaking of utilities improvements, Hall hopes to bid farewell to those 50 year old boilers that heat the city’s high rise buildings.
He’s also like to install fiber optics, “so the children who live in these houses can have better access to the internet to do their homework.”
While the improvement won’t likely be stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors, Hall says he wants the units to be “nice. But, they’re not going to be luxury apartments.”
Hall admits he may be a little optimistic, but he’d like to have all of the construction finished by the end of Summer 2018. However, there are too many, “what if’s, yet to come up with a realistic construction schedule.
Will tenants have to move out totally?
Will the developer be able to rehab with the tenants in place, which will probably take longer.
Even if his summer 2018 goal for completion is too aggressive, Hall said, he’s hopeful the work won’t spill into 2019.
Speaking of work, Hall wants to work with job training program this winter to have workers from the community trained to work on some of the jobs the rehabilitation will create.
“I had a tenant ask me, ‘can we get some of that work? I certainly hope so,” Hall said.
In addition, since the funding for the project is from Federal dollars, Hall said he will definitely be looking for minority, small and disadvantaged businesses to work on the project, in accordance with federal construction requirements.
It’s all part of Hall’s vision for the project. He wants this to be a community effort.
“If people, all people, are able to take part in this massive transformation of our neighborhood, we’ll instill pride. We’ll have ownership,” said Hall “Someone will look at tenant and say, ‘Hey, I worked on that, don’t destroy it.”