Jefferson City has the opportunity to engage national experts as it continues to tackle its housing crisis.
The community was one of five chosen to participate in this year's Housing Solutions Workshop, a program sponsored by New York University's Furman Center Housing Solutions Lab and Abt Associates. Regional partners and city officials will participate in virtual sessions with housing experts and researchers to develop and implement housing strategies.
Local participants include River City Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Susan Cook, former United Way President Ann Bax, Department of Planning and Protective Services Director Clint Smith, Planning Division Manager Eric Barron, Neighborhood Services Supervisor Rachel Senzee and Ward 2 City Councilman Mike Lester.
"As we know, especially over the last few years, housing is a critical issue for Jefferson City," Cook said. "We are at a pivotal point in our community where we all recognize that we must do something to improve housing in our town; however, finding the right strategy has been difficult."
Cook said the opportunity to participate in the lab was another opportunity to bolster the community's response to the housing shortage.
"We are very excited and honored to be participating in the workshop with four other cities and with the housing experts and researchers," she said.
Lester said the group attended its second webinar Thursday, with two more expected each week through Oct. 26. He said the workshop presented an opportunity to see what works for other communities with similar issues and find a path toward implementing strategies from the city's housing study released last year.
"We're ahead of the game there: The study identified our needs, it has some strategies in it, but we need to have, like other cities have done, have a greater focus and a plan for addressing those housing needs," Lester said. "We're talking about something that is a big problem, and it's going to take a long-term plan and the dedication of effort and resources, and this will help get us there."
Lester said the group even had "homework" to complete between sessions and were tasked with studying the strategies other communities have implemented to boost their housing options.
The other cities chosen for this year's workshops are Georgetown, Kentucky; Jackson, Tennessee; Roanoke, Virginia; and Springfield, Massachusetts.
Participants were chosen out of a high volume of applications, according to a news release. Communities were required to submit written applications and interviews.
"Cities around the country are facing an affordable housing crisis, and it's more important than ever for local leaders to use strategic, evidence-informed policies to meet their housing policy goals," Martha Galvez, executive director of the Housing Solutions Lab, said in a news release. "Housing is the lynchpin of so many interconnected challenges facing small and midsize cities, and we're eager to support this year's group of innovators."
National data showed increases in rent and home prices during the past year, though rental vacancy rates moved in the opposite direction -- with both issues compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Furman Center.
This is the third year the workshop has been offered.
The Capital City has battled for increased housing access for the past couple of years, and two developments set to vie for state tax incentives are meant to make a dent in a housing market that's struggled since the 2019 tornado decimated its stock.
Wildwood Canyon is a proposed 50-unit multi-family senior housing development on the east side of Wildwood Drive south of American Avenue. Earlier this year, the Jefferson City Council endorsed the project in its pursuit of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) administered by the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
Developer MOCAP Development Company sought to use low-income housing tax credits to assist with the project's cost, an effort that quickly received unanimous support from the Jefferson City Council.
Stronghold Landing, a 40-unit project proposed for 5011 Old Lohman Road in Jefferson City by Central Missouri Community Action, was also given the council's endorsement. The development also secured the council's approval for disaster recovery funds from the 2019 tornado that devastated the area's housing stock; the deadline to submit plans for that funding pot passed in August.
The commission rejected four local proposals last year, despite some receiving high marks in its scoring criteria. MHDC stated they were rejected because they were the only submitted projects to receive pushback, initially from members of the City Council and later through a public letter-writing campaign.
Wildwood Canyon and Stronghold Landing are among 109 projects seeking the credits.
The Capital City Housing Task Force is also set to hold its second day-long Jefferson City Housing Conference on Thursday at the Capital West Christian Church Event Center. Learn more at capitalcityhousingtaskforce.org.