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  • Writer's pictureJournal Staff Report

USDA rural housing official meet with local representatives

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

La Cygne City Clerk Jodi Wade, from left, discusses that city's housing issues with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials Christy Davis, Sam Marquez, and Joaquin Altoro. (Submitted photo)

LA CYGNE – On Tuesday, Aug. 22, Linn County Economic Director Jessica Hightower, Rural Housing Champion Darcy Wilson and La Cygne City Clerk Jodi Wade hosted a visit by federal and state officials who came to see firsthand how Linn County is working to meet housing challenges.

The officials included Joaquin Altoro, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Services; Christy Davis, state director of USDA Rural Development; and Sam Marquez, deputy chief of staff for Rural Housing Services. Also on hand were representatives of the Kansas Commerce Department and the director of the Kansas Rural Prosperity department.

During the tour, Wilson, who earlier in the day on a panel with two other Kansas housing champions presented information about Linn County’s program at the Kansas Housing Conference in Overland Park, repeated the presentation for the USDA representatives who were unable to make it to that conference.

The group’s visit included a tour of La Cygne, where City Clerk Jodi Wade talked about the city efforts to improve the housing stock in the city.

Wilson said that Altoro was very encouraging about efforts the county was making to improve housing.

“He’s very passionate about rural communities,” she said. “He is very approachable, and he’s willing to help. “

Wilson said he also told the group that there were grant programs available for housing and that they needed to remain patient and persist in seeking grant funds.

Wade also said that Altoro was very helpful and encouraging. He commended the county for acting as a coordinating center for housing issues.

“He advised us that we were headed in the right direction,” she said, adding that he also provided suggestions based on what was working in other states.

Wade said he also pointed out that spreading costs to fund a development program like La Cygne’s was a tough sell to the city’s 1,050 residents. He pointed out that as the city’s population grew, it would be less painful to spread the costs over more taxpayers.

Altoro also cautioned about targeting just one type of housing option, like the standard single-family home, or just one income group, like moderate-income families, Wade said. He suggested housing targeting diverse income residents, including low- to upper-income residents, and diverse types of housing, including duplexes, quadplexes, and apartments.

Officials on the tour included, from left, Jessica Hightower, county economic development director; Darcy Wilson, county rural housing champion; Christy Davis, state director of USDA Rural Development; Joaquin Altoro, administrator of USDA Rural Housing Services; and Jodi Wade, city clerk for the city of La Cygne. (Submitted photo)

Wilson’s presentation included information about how housing was determined to be a critical need and the steps that Linn County was taking to meet that need, including development of a housing assessment tool. Before the Rural Champions program, Linn County did not have a specific person focused on housing.

The program has been extended by the state Commerce Department with another $20,000 – $10,000 for six more months part-time pay for Wilson and $10,000 to help the county set up a housing program. However, Wilson and other rural champions have applied for an additional grant to allow them to continue their work on their projects for another year.

Because Linn County now has a housing committee and an assessment tool, the foundation has been set for applying for grants to develop housing in the county. The county has contracted with Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission (SEKRPC) to write a grant for $650,000 from the state to help develop moderate-income housing (MIH) in the county.

Linn County Commissioner Jason Hightower also attended the tour. Commission Chair Danny McCullough was out of town, and Commissioner Jim Johnson did not respond to Jessica Hightower’s invitation to join them during the commission meeting on Monday. Had more than one commissioner indicated they would attend, it would have required the calling of a special commission meeting.

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