Interfaith developing plan for 'impact' housing project

Jan 13, 2015

By: Ken Stephens 

Interfaith Housing Services is developing a plan to build modular homes on three vacant lots in the southern part of Hutchinson and possibly as many as 30 housing units in the area around Lincoln Elementary School and the Elmdale Community Center.

The goal of the larger project is to concentrate Interfaith’s efforts to create a visible and significant impact on the neighborhood.

“There’s a sense that the revitalization area needs more than just poking and prodding, but a real impact area instead of a little here and a little there,” said Ron Fisher, director of operations for Interfaith.

To get the plan off the ground, Interfaith is applying for a $190,000 grant from the Kansas Housing Resources Corp. to partially fund the three modular homes, Fisher said. He expects to learn whether Interfaith will receive the grant in late spring.

Infill housing, on vacant lots in already established residential areas, has been limited because new houses built in older neighborhoods typically will not appraise at a value equal to their cost of construction. That in turn typically makes it impossible to get mortgages and insurance.

Fisher said modular housing will reduce that gap between construction cost and appraisal value. The plan, he said, is to build three modular homes as a test to see how close they can get to closing the gap.

If the test build proves that they can build cost efficient houses, Interfaith will apply for a larger grant to help build up to 30 more housing units near Lincoln Elementary and the Elmdale Community Center. That would start with duplexes and fourplexes on a 1.2-acre lot Interfaith already owns on the southwest corner of Plum and Avenue G.

There are a number of other vacant lots in that neighborhood that Interfaith would then try to acquire for construction of single-family modular homes, he said.

“We’ve already talked to an architect about a pocket community, and we’re interested in lots within eye-shot of that corner and putting in infill houses so you can stand at the corner of G and Plum and see building all around – thus impact,” Fisher said.

Interfaith has been looking at plans for modular homes built by Champion Homes. Champion builds the modular houses in sections in its factory and then assembles the sections on a foundation at the destination.

“The intriguing thing,” Fisher said, is that (modular) brings a lot of quality but because it’s built off site it’s far more cost effective.”

The concept has emerged from months of strategic planning during which Interfaith’s board of directors explored how it could contribute in a larger way to the city’s efforts to improve housing stock in the neighborhood revitalization zone, which covers everything south of 11th Avenue.

The three test builds, Fisher said, will be on two vacant lots owned by Interfaith at 915 E. Avenue A and 605 E. Avenue D and on another vacant lot Interfaith plans to acquire through the Hutchinson Land Bank at 300 E. Avenue G.

Casey Tillman, the city’s new housing program coordinator, said that the owners of the Avenue G lot have said they will donate the lot to the Land Bank, which will in turn hold the lot for Interfaith until it is ready to start building.

“We’re very supportive of Interfaith’s impact build,” Tillman said.

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