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Project Spotlight: Mankato Housing

Photo of downtown Mankato apartment

Renovation of four loft apartments in downtown Mankato was included in one of the city’s recent housing projects.

Long-time City of Mankato Mayor Don Koester credits a strategic planning meeting 16 years ago with helping the community chart a course to address its housing needs.

“We asked the community what needed to be done,” Koester said. “As a council, we took the ideas and tried to prioritize the biggest needs.”

That meeting was in his first year as mayor and he continues to serve in that role. Housing was among the list of priorities identified.

The community received a boost when it was awarded funds in 2005 through the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce. The funding was part of a Comprehensive Development project that included construction of a new multi-purpose community building, park and street improvements, and housing demolition and rehabilitation. The Comprehensive Development Program is no longer offered.

“The housing in that first project was targeted right around the community center,” Koester said. “It made a small area so you could see a big impact. It was very successful.”

The city has since received funding for two additional housing rehabilitation projects through the CDBG Program. In total, the projects have helped rehabilitate 28 homes and demolish 18 dilapidated units.

“Our work is not complete with housing, but it is certainly going in the right direction,” Koester said. “If you can rehabilitate a house and stop it from going downhill, you keep it a viable housing unit for your community. You can stop that cycle of decline.”

The city is now in the process of deciding next steps to address some infrastructure needs.

“Infrastructure goes together with housing,” Koester said. “We are trying to look at things at a big scale for more years knowing that we will enhance what is there (housing) by what we do next.”

NCRPC Housing Director Carol Torkelson has administered all three housing projects in Mankato and credits the community for putting in the work to address housing.

“The City of Mankato committed to saving the existing housing stock and removing dilapidated structures,” Torkelson said. “It is something they could bring to their citizens at minimal cost to the city.”

There are many great things happening in North Central Kansas. The Project Spotlight series features projects around the region to share ways communities have solved challenges. To view more Project Spotlights, visit http://www.ncrpc.org/tag/project-spotlight/.

This article appeared in the September 2019 NCRPC Newsletter.



Pilot Program Addresses Nuisances

Helping communities deal with nuisance properties, enforcement and ordinances was the main goal behind NCRPC offering a pilot Nuisance Abatement Program in 2018.

Dilapidated structures are one of the issues the Nuisance Abatement Program seeks to address.

NCRPC Housing Director Carol Torkelson says there have been many positive results from the first year of the program in the City of Belleville.

“The visual impact is huge in the area where the ordinance was enforced and property owner pride is very apparent,” Torkelson said. “Another great success was neighbors helping neighbors — working together to remedy issues that needed taken care of.”

The Nuisance Abatement Program offers third party assessment and oversight from an outside perspective to enforce an ordinance the city adopts. The comprehensive Nuisance Abatement Ordinance applies to all properties including commercial, residential, vacant or occupied. NCRPC developed the program based on similar initiatives with peer organizations in Nebraska.

“We all get used to seeing things as they are and that becomes normal,” Torkelson said. “The program helps nudge residents to be aware of their surroundings.”

The pilot program was designed to be completed by the end of 2018. All properties have cleared except those the City of Belleville is monitoring and will complete with its demolition program. According to Belleville Mayor Kim Lapo, in recent years the city has demolished approximately 10 homes per year that have been deemed uninhabitable. Some of these properties have absentee owners.

“Everyone in our community wins when our properties are taken care of,” Lapo said. “It positively impacts tourism and economic development, which is crucial for small towns like us to stand out.”

While there were challenges to work through like many first-year programs, Torkelson credits the City of Belleville and its staff for staying the course and successfully completing the project.

“City staff was great to work with,” Torkelson said. “They offered suggestions such as an extra clean up day to help residents and use of their time and equipment for the actual abatement.”

According to Lapo, the city encountered pushback at the early stages of the program’s implementation — mostly due to questions about the purpose and cost. “The council and city staff worked diligently to be as transparent as possible and answer the questions that the community had in regards to this program,” Lapo said.

After a year of the program, Lapo reflected that there have been noticeable successes, including the visible difference where the nuisance abatement ordinance was enforced. “Trash has been removed from properties, vegetation has been cut down, repairs have been made to homes and structures, and vehicles have been tagged or removed from properties,” Lapo said. “A sense of community pride has been fostered since this program’s implementation.”

NCRPC is currently developing a modified version of the program that will be available to smaller communities that cannot afford the cost of the full program.

“We see the need in many of the communities we work with but also understand this is hard for communities to take on,” Torkelson said. “It is a lot of work and it impacts people on a personal level.”

For more information about the program, contact Carol Torkelson at ctorkelson@nckcn.com or NCRPC Housing Assistant Keegan Bailey at kbailey@nckcn.com.

This article appeared in the January 2019 NCRPC Newsletter.



Certified Asbestos Inspections Available

Certified Asbestos Inspections AvailableThe NCRPC offers Certified Asbestos Inspections to governmental entities and private property owners.

“Cities need to know that by rule they should have commercial buildings inspected prior to demolition,” Carol Torkelson, NCRPC Housing Director, says. “We have an inspector on staff who is accredited to do asbestos inspections.”

In Kansas, the asbestos program is operated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Bureau of Air. Regulations are in place in Kansas to help protect the public and workers from exposure to asbestos fibers during removal, renovation and demolition of commercial and public buildings. In certain circumstances, residential properties fall under these regulations as well. If in question, contact KDHE or the NCRPC for guidance on how to proceed. As a result, prior to demolition, all commercial, industrial and some residential buildings must be inspected by a qualified asbestos inspector.

The cost of asbestos inspections vary based on the structure and how many samples must be taken.

“Each unit is unique and has different sampling requirements,” Torkelson says. “This is a service we are able to offer that is available for a city or property owner’s own protection.”

Many building products contain asbestos because of its strength, durability and resistance to heat. Its uses are widespread and could be present in just about any structure.  For demolition, a notification form must be submitted to KDHE at least 10 business days prior to the start of work — even if asbestos is not found in the inspection.

To learn more about NCRPC’s asbestos inspection services or to request a bid, contact Carol Torkelson at 785-738-2218 or email her at ctorkelson@nckcn.com.



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