Raising the roofs: Sharing a vision for housing

Chanute and Iola officials discuss regional efforts to revitalize and rebuild communities throughout the area. Key concerns are business development and housing.

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July 8, 2021 - 10:10 AM

Matt Godinez, of the Chanute Regional Development Authority, talks with Jonathon Goering of Thrive Allen County about housing and the importance of regional partnerships. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

CHANUTE — Matt Godinez has the recipe for success in housing.

He’s director of the Chanute Regional Development Authority (CRDA), an organization working to revitalize and rebuild not only Chanute, but communities throughout the region.

“We can all be feeding off of each other,” he said, and contended that regionalism is a key ingredient to economic development projects of all kinds, where county borders and city limits matter less than perhaps they used to.

Consider the following example.

Goering, left, and Godinez scope out the historic Mason’s Building in Chanute that is being repurposed into an apartment complex. “By saving this building, we’re saving this entire block,” Godinez said.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

“OK developer,” Godinez said, “you won’t build five houses in Chanute, but what if I can get you to build 100 houses in southeast Kansas?”

“Maybe 10 in Iola, 10 in Chanute, 10 in Parsons,” and so on. “Our buying power is in all of us together, not in standing alone,” he added.

Godinez said it’s a similar story when recruiting franchises.

For instance, Dollar Tree/Family Dollar weren’t terribly interested in building single franchises in individual towns, he noted, but things changed when a regional approach was taken.

ANOTHER success-story is the Osa Martin Heights Addition, a Chanute housing development. Advanced System Homes serves as the contractor there as well as other sites in eastern Kansas, including Neodesha.

Although the project kicked off several years ago, a series of brand new houses have recently been constructed on-site.

Godinez said that one trick to putting up new roofs there was directly contacting local industries, and working to promote interest.

“We’re really trying to promote that neighborhood to HR representatives,” he said, “about using that neighborhood as a recruiting tool.”

But they also went one step further.

As Godinez explained, “when Orizon came, we offered that if any employee were to build out there, they could get that lot for free.”

As one can imagine, more than one of Orizon’s employees have taken them up on the offer.

WHAT about existing properties that could use a face-lift?

When it comes to revitalization, Godinez said that programming is key, that is, creating mechanisms so that property owners realize all the resources available to them.

“It’s making sure everybody has those resources, whether it’s Kansas Main Street, Department of Commerce, etc.,” he said.

This means that “each [rehabilitation project] is kind of a little different,” specifically in relation to what existing programs/resources might be available or effective.

Matt Godinez, of the Chanute Regional Development Authority, explores the Osa Martin Heights Addition in Chanute with Jonathon Goering of Thrive Allen County. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Consider the historic Mason’s Building in Chanute.

According to Godinez, when the building owner’s husband died, rather than selling it, she gifted it to the Chanute Land Bank, a mechanism whereby “problem properties” can be offloaded (and owned by the land bank) tax-free.

“We’ve recruited a developer and we’re hoping to have about 30 apartments downtown,” Godinez said of plans for the building.

“Seven or eight things made that project happen,” he elaborated, including the land bank, specific tax rebates and more.

And where did some of that land banking knowledge come from? Again, think regionalism.

“We work with Neodesha all the time,” Godinez said. “They have a great land bank. We learned a lot from Neodesha.”

ANOTHER way to promote housing, according to Godinez, is through strategic use of tax dollars.

Matt Godinez, of the Chanute Regional Development Authority, talks with Jonathon Goering of Thrive Allen County about housing and the importance of regional partnerships. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

For instance, he and others successfully lobbied for an additional quarter-cent sales tax in Chanute, where the money is set aside specifically for economic development/housing.

Regarding half the funds, “we put back money every month that goes into a grant fund that we can grant back to the downtown businesses.”

The other half goes to the City of Chanute for city-owned building revitalization projects.

Such measures were also enthusiastically supported, with Godinez recalling they were approved by up to 70% of voters, who were hungry for local improvements.

And, of course, there has to be buy-in from elected officials as well.

“I’ve had very good city commissions,” Godinez said. “And I’ve had some good economic development commissions.”

“But if you don’t have a governing body that believes in economic development, you’re out of luck.”

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