Habitat for Humanity pares back plan for Olathe affordable housing development

Officials with Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City fielded questions from neighboring residents about the organization's plan to build 14 affordable single-family homes near 159th Street and Black Bob Road. Photo courtesy Kevin Schutte.

An affordable housing development built by Habitat for Humanity planned for Olathe will be smaller than earlier estimations because of floodplain issues, Habitat board members said Wednesday.

The project, dubbed Olathe Pathway, at 159th Street and Blackbob Road will have a maximum of 14 single-family homes, rather than the 20 originally planned.

Still, the proposal — a key plank in the county’s continuing efforts to address housing affordability — is on track and likely to be submitted to Olathe city planners soon, said Lindsay Hicks, president and CEO of the nonprofit.

County has cleared $950K in federal funds for project

Habitat and Kansas City Community Land Trust officials provided an update and a deeper look at the project during two meetings Wednesday.

Some neighboring residents became alarmed last month after the county commission approved $950,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds for the project.

Some said they had not been notified of the project near their homes, and others worried that the size of the project could expand.

About 100 turned out for the meeting Wednesday evening at the Pathway Community Christian Church in Olathe.

With the exception of one man who interrupted the presentation and walked out about seven minutes into the meeting, the meeting appeared to be a polite exchange, with residents submitting questions to Habitat officials on note cards.

Habitat board members sought to reassure the residents with a detailed look at the proposal to sell the newly built homes at below-market price to income-qualified buyers using a land trust arrangement.

Olathe development would be first of its kind in JoCo

Habitat for Humanity is best known for its work on building individual houses.

The proposed “pocket” development in Olathe would be a first for Johnson County, where home prices have remained out of reach for many teachers, police officers and service workers in low-wage jobs.

The development was made possible by the sale of land owned by the church.

Kevin Schutte, pastor of Pathway Community Christian, said affordable housing is a part of the church’s ministry.

“It provides a tangible expression of God’s grace,” he said Wednesday.

Tenants will be carefully chosen

The homes would be built along a single street with a cul-de-sac on the land adjacent to the church building. The church, however, will not be involved in further development.

Habitat officials also stressed that the people moving into those homes would be carefully chosen based on their work and renting history, criminal background check and ability to pay mortgages – which are set at 30% of their monthly income.

Tiffany Smith, chair of the board for Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City, lived in a Habitat house as a young mother 20 years ago.

The stability it provided made it possible for her to build equity, go to school and have a career, she said.

“I am that Habitat homeowner,” she said. “I’m in the community, I’m flourishing and all of this is because of Habitat.”

Hicks, Habitat’s president and CEO, briefly became choked up when responding to a question about whether the new homes would be occupied by “intact families with both a mother and father in the home.”

“I cannot tell you how amazing the families are,” Hicks said.

“There are a lot of assumptions when it comes to affordable and attainable housing. We’re really hoping this project helps to bring to visibility that affordable housing is beautiful and affordable housing is great for the community,” she said.

Habitat officials responded to residents’ concerns

For the most part, the questions Wednesday night drilled down on the details of how the project would work, with several questions on the topic of property taxes, financing, whether the appraisals on the nearby homes would affect property values and whether upkeep on the homes would be maintained.

Michael Jantsch, a Habitat board member, responded to a resident’s question about whether the homes would look like those on a military base or a “cookie cutter” development.

“The idea is to try to match the home styles a little bit to the area in appearance,” while still making them affordable, Jantsch said. “So these may be the most expensive homes Habitat has built.”

One of the attendees told board members that a lack of notification to surrounding homeowners got the project off on the wrong foot.

A streamway separates some neighboring homes from the project, and some adjacent neighborhoods are in unincorporated Johnson County, not Olathe.

Hicks apologized, saying her group had trouble finding all the addresses, but that Habitat would work to improve that in the future.

In the meantime, a sign-up sheet was posted for email updates and Habitat has added a page to its website dedicated to Olathe Pathway.

Other facts about the development:

  • Planned amenities include a community garden, though the existing one at the church may have to be relocated.
  • No zoning change will be required.
  • Homes will range in size from two to five bedrooms with an average size of 1,400 to 2,400 square feet. The lots are a minimum of 7,200 square feet.
  • Homes will be built to be energy efficient with a 3.0 Energy Star rating.
  • Developers will work with Olathe planners to fine tune the project. It is expected it will take about a year for infrastructure to be completed, and a year-and-a-half to two years for vertical construction.
  • The land trust arrangement means buyers are buying the home and the land trust retains the land. When buyers sell, they keep a portion of their equity. The land trust then can continue to keep the price low for the next buyer.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.