The Hutchinson City Council this week approved an additional tool to help residents become homeowners – and to improve over time the quality of Hutchinson’s housing stock, especially in those areas that have seen, or are threatened by, an increase in deteriorating homes.
Starting next year, Reno County renters who want to purchase a home in three neighborhoods – Southwest Bricktown, College Grove and Houston Whiteside – can leverage up to $2,500 in matching funds from the city with their own money for a larger down payment. The program will partner with Interfaith Housing Services, which already has its own, and quite effective, savings program to encourage home ownership. Participants will be required to participate in Interfaith’s financial education course.
The program represents a proactive approach by the council to put its money where its mouth is. After years of neglect, the city in the past several years has shown a genuine recognition that much of Hutchinson’s housing is substandard, especially rental housing in the city’s older neighborhoods. The declining property values erode the ability of local government and school districts to pay for essential services through property taxes. And the decline of several homes in an area serve as a sort of cancer in a neighborhood – forcing those who can afford it to flee and leaving others behind with a property that loses value just because of the decline of the neighborhood.
The city began with a property maintenance code to set basic housing standards, followed by a rental registration program to compel compliance by dubious landlords. Now, the city offers a carrot to those who want to become homeowners instead of renters.
Furthermore, it makes sense to target neighborhoods that have renewed energy and investment thanks to the efforts of Hutchinson Recreation Commission to create neighborhood identities in areas that previously had been all but forgotten. Stopping the spread of disinvestment in those neighborhoods is critical to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the city.
The city council made a wise move with this endeavor – one that doesn’t rely on punitive regulations but instead encourages home ownership in designated neighborhoods, with the financial aid of the community.