Manhattan City Commissioners Tuesday supported drafting a memorandum of understanding with the Manhattan Housing Authority, currently eyeing the sky above a city-owned parking lot as the site for a new affordable housing building Downtown.

Though a nearby senior service agency expressed concerns that things were moving too quickly.

The project is being prompted by the discovery of significant mold and asbestos issues at MHA’s Carlson Plaza last Summer, with rehabilitation costs rivaling the public housing building’s value. They’ve been working on the concept for the project with multiple partners including National Church Residences, which is looking to demolish its flood-prone Garden Grove senior housing facilities located on Garden Way after repeated impacts by high water on Wildcat Creek.

“They will flood again,” MHA Executive Director Aaron Estabrook says. “Something needs to be done. It flooded pretty heavily in 2018, the Labor Day Flood – those folks were displaced for more than a year, often.”

MHA officials have joined KMAN on a few occasions to discuss the topic, check out prior coverage at these links: (1), (2), (3).

The estimated $20 million project as proposed would maintain all 109 units between the two entities’ properties in a new building at 5th and Pierre Streets – as well as maintain the parking stalls currently located in the city-owned lot at that site by building a pedestal and constructing housing space over the top.

Ultimately, MHA envisions rebuilding on the site of the former Carlson Plaza as well and plans also indicate interest in rehabilitating NCR’s Colorado Plaza – ending with what Estabrook and the MHA have been referring to as an affordable housing campus in the heart of Manhattan.

“It was designed to have assisted housing downtown, and not to try to subject it to be on the periphery somewhere else,” says Estabrook. “To make it walkable, to give people access to some of these amenities that the community has been investing in downtown.”

MHA is seeking the memorandum with the city in order to secure site control at the proposed building location, something Estabrook says is necessary for the organization to have the authority to pursue financing opportunities for the project. They’re looking at many different sources, including U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, federal and state low income housing tax credits, as well as SPARK funds from the state and a FEMA buyout for NCR’s Garden Way properties – with NCR offering to cover the city’s 25 percent match for the buyout to the tune of $400,000.

“What we want to do is meet the necessary status for the tax credit application,” says Estabrook.

City commissioners raised numerous lines of questioning for Estabrook at the Tuesday meeting. Numerous possible add-ons to the project were placed on the table in the course of public engagement around the topic, including conversation about the viability of any retail space or an expansion to include market-rate workforce housing in the project.

Commissioner Usha Reddi says she wants the final MOU to have numerous caveats, and has no interest in bringing workforce housing into the picture, which the voter-approved Economic Recovery and Relief sales tax going into effect in 2023 will commit 10 percent of revenue towards.

“My concern is that you’re going to come back and ask for the sales tax money for workforce housing in these properties,” she says.

Estabrook says he isn’t sure that would be possible under HUD regulations.

“I am a champion for preserving the units and fixing Carlson,” says Estabrook. “I’m also willing and listening to all of the ideas because it is a community parking lot, it is a way to do things, and we have other issues.

“We’ve got to prioritize, I’m the champion of the Housing Authority’s mission with National Church Residences and the HUD-assisted units – if there’s a champion for workforce housing that isn’t necessarily the same project but combined and meshed in there they’re very welcome to engage with us.”

Much of the concerns, though, centered around how the new development will impact parking in the area as new residents relocate from Garden Way. Commissioner Wynn Butler questioned if other locations in the area have been considered rather than the parking lot. Estabrook says other options are possible in theory, but would require them to purchase the real estate and significantly raise the project’s price tag.

“Is it possible, yes. Would it something that we would be involved in, no,” Estabrook says. “That’s a National Church Residences decision, this brings us together in a way that we are working to build a downtown affordable housing campus that the Housing Authority would be managing and running for the next 50, 100 years.”

North Central Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Julie Govert-Walter, though, didn’t think the project represented the best solution. NCFHAAA is located nearby the lot and also administers a section 8 voucher program. Speaking during public comment, Govert-Walter says the organization has ‘serious’ concerns about potential unintended consequences stemming from the project – also urging for independent studies of the impact the development would have on traffic and parking by bringing new residents into the area before finalizing the MOU.

“This lot provides parking for staff, for customers, parents, volunteers of the area businesses and nonprofit organizations,” Govert-Walter says. “We do believe this current use constitutes the highest and best use of this parcel.”

Additional NCFHAAA raised concerns Tuesday that building above the parking lot will signal to the public that the stalls are not open to them, but instead are dedicated to residents. Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan CEO Hannah Coash also expressed an interest in ensuring safety for their patrons during construction and advocated for the lot to be well-lit and monitored by security cameras.

Past conversations have also floated the possibility of teaming up with the Riley County Seniors Service Center in co-locating at the spot – something Board member and Commissioner Butler says is not desired by the Center. Mayor Linda Morse, a former member of the MHA board and current NCFHAAA board member, also didn’t want to see the Seniors Service Center brought into the mix.

“I think this project is big enough all by itself,” Morse says. “It would have to create something that benefits the senior center and I think just being dumped in on top of this project isn’t necessarily what the senior center needs or wants.”

City staff will work on a draft MOU for city commission approval, which will return for consideration at a later date.

Estabrook joined KMAN’s In Focus Thursday following the Tuesday meeting, you can hear that conversation here.