The highlight of last week’s Hays City Commission meeting was a discussion of the city’s need to recruit new businesses to the area and the best ways to do that. In all of the discussion, only Vice Mayor James Meier identified the true problem when he asked what the city can do to grow from 20,000 to 25,000, with Commissioner Lance Jones’ striking at the heart of the issue — noting the unreasonably high housing prices in Hays.
One of the largest limiting factors to our growth is the lack of affordable housing in Hays. When it costs more to buy a home here than in most metropolitan areas in Kansas, we will continue to lose people, and we miss more business opportunities due to the lack of available workers than to any other factor. Ask almost any Hays business owner, and one of their largest struggles is hiring competent help. We need more people, but they need places to live.
The city needs to work toward increasing the supply of moderately priced houses in Hays, which would in turn normalize the prices of our existing homes. Neighborhood revitalization can help to an extent, but it will hardly make a dent in the problem. Hays developers are required to pay 100 percent of the cost of infrastructure in new developments, and that cost can only be recouped by building huge, expensive houses. However, if the city were to partner with developers on building homes to sell under $175,000 by providing the infrastructure within those developments (and perhaps limiting rentals for 10 to 15 years), we could make strides toward achieving real growth.
If we want to make progress on these issues, we need to identify the real problems facing our city, which a new T.J. Maxx or filling Big Creek Crossing won’t solve. We need people, and they need homes.