Board members spent their recent City Commission retreat discussing several topics — among them was the issue of affordable housing in the community.

Board members spent their recent City Commission retreat discussing several topics — among them was the issue of affordable housing in the community.

Mayor Richard Finley said he hears constantly that Shawnee doesn't have enough affordable housing.

Being newly elected to the commission, he asked if there was some criteria the city uses to determine what housing it needs.

City Manager Justin Erickson said there was nothing currently in place, adding that the city needed to do a revised study of housing needs.

Apartment complexes are part of market studies, he said, but there is no system in place to gauge the broad spectrum concerning general housing in the area.

Ward 3 City Commissioner James Harrod, who is familiar with and owns real estate in the area, said an issue the community has is that the Housing Authority doesn't have vouchers to fund more housing help, or compensation, for people on waiting lists.

“We have problems with people moving into low-income housing … it needs to not be 100-percent locked in (fully paid by the Housing Authority),” Harrod said.

He believes the renters should be paying at least a portion of the cost.

“We need to set a percentage (like 70/30 or 60/40), and also a percentage of low-income compared to regular residential rate,” Harrod said.

The way things stand, there is housing available, Harrod said, but the funds to pay rent are not there.

“It's not helping the market, because the housing authority doesn't have funds to help fill up the apartments we already have now,” Harrod said.

The latest data used to determine need is from the city's comprehensive plan from 2005, City Planning Director Justin DeBruin said.

“We do need to update the plan, but we focus on opportunities to bring in affordable options to the community,” he said.

Measuring the need would involve market studies, Erickson said.

“We don't routinely look at vacancy rates, but that information is easily obtainable,” he said. “Vacancy rates are calculated from postal and census records.”

Ward 5 City Commissioner Lesa Shaw said, “Going back to the subject of housing criteria, what I had heard previously is that we were looking for consistency and a process so that the individuals (applying) for housing credits would know what our criteria was here at the city, and then we could base it on the needs we found through planning or through an established process.”

In Oklahoma right now, most of the money (for housing) is in Altus or Lawton, because of the requirements of the base there, Harrod said.

“It's booming there,” he said.

Another issue Harrod said the city has to consider is safeguarding against the element of trouble that can easily establish itself in low-income areas.

The community doesn't want to get targeted in one area, where most police department calls are directed at one particular complex because of the problems out there, Harrod said.

The city needs to establish criteria to follow, he said.

Erickson said he will gather up the latest market data to pull together some information and get back to the commission with it in 30-60 days.

“It's one thing to set up policies, it's another to monitor where we are in adherence to those policies,” Finley said. “I think if we are going to develop the policy and put it on the shelf, then it's not going to do us any good.”

He said he would like to see the planning department develop some kind of system to monitor the data on an ongoing basis.

“We need to know where we want to be and then we need to know where we are,” he said.

Shaw said one problem is that the planning department doesn't have a good guide to go by because our master plan is so outdated.

“It would be really advantageous to update that comprehensive plan,” she said.

The 20-year comprehensive plan, Erickson said, is usually revisited every five or 10 years.

Finley suggested the plan be looked at on a continual basis instead of occasionally.

Finley and all members of the board were in attendance — keeping in mind the commission's Ward 6 Seat is currently vacant after Micheal Dykstra's resignation in early December — as well as many leaders from various departments.

Another retreat is planned for some time in March, Erickson said.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.