A few dozen residents met Saturday at Kansas State University to discuss three potential ways to improve housing affordability in the greater Manhattan area.

The community forum is the second of its kind in two years, part of the Community Solutions to Affordable Housing project. The three solutions that were discussed were identified as goals during the previous forum held in April 2018. Those solutions were a mandatory, periodical rental inspection program, neighborhood revitalization programs and public housing trusts.

Donna Schenck-Hamlin is a facilitation organizer for the KSU Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy — which helps organize the program alongside the Healthy Communities Laboratory and the KSU College of Architecture, Planning, and Design and with funding from the Kansas Health Foundation. She says the goal of the forum was “to try to get representatives of the whole housing system of the Greater Manhattan area in the same room” to talk.

An estimated 30 to 50 people, including representatives of organizations and community groups related to housing, attended the forum in the Staley School of Leadership Studies. They eventually separated into break-out groups to discuss the potential solutions and roadblocks as well as underlying projects after exercises to identify which housing values were shared most among participants.

“We saw one set of values expressed by these organizations and agencies — [and]we saw a lot of overlap with the public participants in terms of their values,” says Katie Kingery-Page. “Some things that rose to the top were affordability and safety of housing.”

Kingery-Page says the discussions helped lay the ground work for more focused study circles in the future, similar to how the process functioned in the previous phase last year which led to the identified solutions.

Multiple members of the Manhattan City Commission and administration also took part, including Commissioner Wynn Butler. Butler was partial to the topics of neighborhood revitalization and public housing trusts, but remained firm in opposition to mandatory rental inspections.

“What I’m interested in doing is taking our current program and just tweaking it,” says Butler. “And put in some thing to address specific problems.”

A vocal opponent to such programs, he says mandatory rental inspections create an illusion of safety as only a small fraction would end up being inspected on a regular basis.

Commissioner Linda Morse was also in attendance, and took part in the break-out session on housing trusts. She says the experience was a great opportunity.

“We just kind of brainstormed and, quite frankly, we haven’t really spent a lot of time as a community on some of [these topics],” Morse says. “Of course considered rental inspection, but on the other two avenues haven’t — so this is a good chance to explore.”

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