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  • Writer's pictureJournal Staff Report

County wins grant to work on improving housing

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Linn County has been awarded a grant to hire a part-time employee to work on housing issues for the county. (Shutterstock file photo)

MOUND CITY – Linn County officials learned late last week that the county had been approved for a grant from the state's Rural by Choice Champions Program (Rural Champions). The grant, for more than $20,000, is to establish a part-time position to work on housing issues in the county.

Earlier this month, commissioners approved a request from county Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower to hire Darcy Wilson for the Rural Champions grant at $20 per hour for 20 hours a week for one year. Hightower told commissioners then that hiring a coordinator for the grant in advance would help tilt the table in the county's favor in trying to win the grant.

Commissioners at that time approved the hiring on that condition. And on Monday, Oct. 24, commissioners voted to confirm hiring Wilson for the post.

Hightower said that initially she and Wilson will meet with officials from cities in the county to get a sense of their housing needs.

“I would like to ask the cities what they would like to do. If they want to form a committee or just work with her one on one individually, we’ll just see what their feeling is,” Hightower told the commissioners.

Linn County is one of 12 counties that were awarded the grant, and only one of two counties that had identified housing as a focus for the program. Other rural counties winning the grant plan to focus on other issues, including four counties that will focus on child care, two on entrepreneurship, one on mental health, one on wellness, and a couple on community development.

The Rural Champions program was launched earlier this year by Gov. Laura Kelly in collaboration with the Patterson Family Foundation. The selected Rural Champions will be a part of a statewide network of grassroots individuals tackling critical projects in their respective communities.

“I created the Office of Rural Prosperity in 2019 to bring attention to the needs of rural communities across Kansas,” Kelly said in a press release. “By finding local solutions to local challenges, the Rural Champions program exemplifies the mission of the Office and all that rural Kansas can achieve.”

Hightower said that the state Department of Commerce staff had been very helpful on rural issues, not only for the Rural Champions grant but for other programs as well. She that the department had been good in reaching out to rural communities to identify and solve problems they faced.

She said that as the counties begin work on their Rural Champions projects, the counties' staffs are being asked to document not only what went right with the program but what went wrong as well. That way other counties wanting to begin a similar program could learn and not have to make the same mistakes.

Commissioner Danny McCullough asked how the program might affect houses that have been condemned.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said that there might be an element to this program, for example, that encourages cities to identify houses that have been condemned but that could be fixed up.

The county could then devise a program that encourages people to come in and fix them up. Some cities might need that and some cities might not, he said.

McCullough said he thought that would be a huge factor in saving housing stock in the county.

Hightower asked for permission to establish social media accounts with her as administrator on Facebook, Instagram and a blog for this project. She said they were required by the grant to post once a week.

The commissioners approved Hightower opening up social media accounts for the project.

In a separate interview, Hightower pointed out that the recently adopted comprehensive plan for the county included developing a strategy for improving housing in the county. She said that was the basis for Linn County's application, and she hoped that by being awarded the grant, the county could build on that.

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