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City eyes new housing to spur growth


NOTE: This piece was published in The Collegio on Sept. 28, 2017. 

There are five abandoned houses on Cindy Riachi’s block.


One is being demolished. Another is being remodeled. The other three are gradually decaying.


“I am very familiar with the housing stock in Pittsburg, (as) I usually walk three miles a day,” Riachi said. “Unfortunately, sometimes (old homes) are so bad and the city has allowed them to sit this way for so long.”  


Riachi says she is concerned about Pittsburg’s housing system.  


Part of her concern stems from the age of Pittsburg’s houses. According to 2015 Census Bureau statistics, 66.3 percent of Pittsburg’s 9,185 housing units were built before 1960.


“I think having over half of our stock be close to 60-years-old is surprising,” Pittsburg’s housing director Becky Gray said. “That means that no real, significant building has occurred in quite some time.”  


Just 33 percent of all housing units in Pittsburg were built after 1980, according to census data.


Brian Jones, real estate broker and owner of Jones Heritage Realtors, says he rarely sees newer houses on the market.


“Our problem in Pittsburg is that our housing stock is older,” Jones said. “We don’t have a whole lot of houses being built for people to buy. Most of the new houses that are built are custom houses.”    


Newer houses, however, are more expensive than their older counterparts. Jones said the average price of a newer home in Pittsburg is $200,000. According to Data USA, that price is $112,900 more than Pittsburg’s median price of $87,100.


“Most of the time in real estate, it’s what you can afford (and) what your income will allow you,” Jones said. “A lot of people can’t afford a $200,000 house.”  


A housing market dominated by older housing units has made it increasingly difficult for Pittsburg citizens to find their ideal home, Gray says.  


“The quality of the stock out there is really poor,” Gray said. “We have higher expectations as a community now. A house that hasn’t had any kind of significant renovations done since the 80’s falls below the standards that we’re looking for.”  


In 2014, Pittsburg city commissioners approved a 230-page study from Novogradac and Co., of  Overland Park. The study’s analysis of Pittsburg’s housing market provided ten housing recommendations.


The recommendations called for creating additional housing near Pittsburg State University and Via Christi Hospital, enhancing housing in the Downtown Area, expanding the supply of moderate income housing, creating a land bank, establishing neighborhood associations and planned subdivisions, expanding housing for seniors, building short-term housing for young professionals and more.       


“It was a worthwhile study and it gave us some real tangibles,” Gray said.  


The city took the study’s recommendations and began improving Pittsburg’s housing system, according to Gray.  


“[After the study], It was important to start creating some new houses, doing some infill development and pushing some reinvestment back into neighborhoods,” Gray said.


However, the city knew they needed a person who would lead the enactment of the study’s recommendations and manage housing development. Thus, the city hired Gray, who is currently in her third year of working as Pittsburg’s housing manager.  


“(Before 2014), there was no position at the city level that was dedicated to creating, maintaining and educating around housing,” Gray said. “There was no one person responsible for creating new development (and) that’s where I came in.”  


Under the direction of Gray, the city created a land bank, which put vacant buildings into public use and allows entities to hold property tax-free. In order to promote development and rehabilitation of housing, the city also formed the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), which offers property tax rebates to owners who complete certain improvements or renovations of property, according to the city’s website.  


On Sept. 12, commissioners approve a $300,000 loan to Pointe Royal Development, Inc. to create a new entity, Pittsburg Highlands, LP. Pittsburg Highlands will build 20 houses for a long-term home ownership program targeting individuals with low to moderate incomes, according to Gray.


Nevertheless, Gray said the city is only in the beginning stages of improvement and more work remains.  


“I like to say that it’s taken us decades to get here and it’s going to take us longer than a few years to get out,” Gray said. “I can’t say that we’ve created lots of new houses, but for the past few years that I’ve been working, we’ve made a lot of progress.”


And after years of observing the dilapidated structures on her block, Riachi has noticed the city’s efforts to improve Pittsburg’s housing system.  


“The city seems to finally be addressing these [housing] issues after years and years of complaints,” Riachi said. “Hopefully, they will be able to finish it within a few years.”

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