Johnson County Health Equity Network to lead study of housing inventory countywide

Julie Brewer, executive director of United Community Services of Johnson County

As part of efforts to address concerns about access to housing that is affordable, the Johnson County Health Equity Network is undertaking a detailed study of housing inventory in the county.

United Community Services of Johnson County, in its role with the health equity network, is facilitating the study on behalf of the cities across Johnson County.

The Johnson County Health Equity Network is a multi-sector collaborative of community partners working to address health inequities and their root causes. After a year of looking at data to identify priority health issues affecting Johnson County residents, the network has found that safe, stable and affordable housing has grown more and more difficult to find.

Julie Brewer, executive director of Johnson County United Community Services, said the Housing Market and Needs Analysis Inventory is intended to “paint a better picture” of the various housing needs of each community in Johnson County.

“We’re not looking for one set of recommendations that every community would follow because the communities are vastly different,” Brewer said. “What we’re looking for is a set of recommendations that can uniquely align with the different communities and their unique opportunities and challenges.”

Once complete, the study would also include a countywide demographic and profiles, an economic analysis, community input, and a review of state and local policies. A task force to review recommendations from the housing study is also in the works. That task force would have representation from local government, businesses, developers, housing, finance and education, as well as resident stakeholders.

The following cities participating in the county-wide housing study include De Soto, Edgerton, Fairway, Gardner, Lake Quivira, Leawood, Lenexa, Merriam, Mission, Mission Hills, Mission Woods, Olathe, Overland Park Prairie Village, Roeland Park, Shawnee, Spring Hill, Westwood and Westwood Hills.

Brewer said Johnson County is planning to cover half of the costs of the housing study, and participating cities will contribute an amount based on their population sizes. The costs of the study and the task force may also be funded by grant opportunities if approved.

The last time a housing study was completed in Johnson County was in 2004, Brewer added.

Work leading up to this housing study has been underway since 2017. Through grant funding support from the Kansas Health Foundation and the REACH Healthcare Foundation, the Johnson County Health Equity Network has been working to identify strategies that address health inequities, including housing opportunities.

Brewer stressed the need to address growing housing inequities in Johnson County. Homes valued under $250,000 declined by 20,000 between 2007 and 2017, according to United Community Services. As a result, residents with lower incomes may not be able to gain access to housing in the communities where they work. In Johnson County, regardless of whether renting or owning, 25% of households are burdened by the cost of housing.

“There’s a very big difference between choosing to live in a community outside of where you work because that’s what you want to do… [and] being in another location because the option of living close to my work is unattainable for me,” Brewer said. “We want to make sure that our attainable and sustainable housing choice landscape to be reflective of the very intentional economic development vision our communities have. Are we as intentional in our housing choice options as we are in creating that very full picture [of] robust economic development?”

Rising property values, substandard housing conditions and high mobility of residents can contribute to housing-related stresses and limit attainability and sustainability of affordable housing, according to United Community Services.

Brewer said the housing challenges in Johnson County “sound like doom and gloom,” but the work by the Johnson County Health Equity Network is working to address these challenges and reverse trends.

“We’re a healthy community that has been creative in demonstrated forward-thinking and creativity throughout our history,” Brewer said. “This is more of how do you reach back and make sure that you’re lifting up all of your community members so that we can all be a part of being healthy and having access to attainable and sustainable housing? Because that’s really where we get sustainability as a community, and that’s really where we have that vitality.”

Brewer said they hope to find a consultant to lead the housing study by the end of November.