Raising the roofs: Sharing a vision for housing

CHANUTE — Matt Godinez has the recipe for success in housing.

He is a director of the Chanute Regional Development Authority (CRDA), an organization that revitalizes and rebuilds not only Chanute, but communities across the region.

“We can all feed off of each other,” he said, arguing that regionalism is a key ingredient in economic development projects of all kinds, where county and city boundaries may matter less than they used to.

Consider the following example.

Göring, left, and Godinez view the historic Mason’s Building in Chanute being turned into an apartment complex. “By saving this building, we’re saving this entire block,” Godinez said.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

“Okay developer,” Godinez said, “you’re not going to build five houses in Chanute, but what if I can let you build 100 houses in southeastern Kansas?”

“Maybe 10 in Iola, 10 in Chanute, 10 in Parsons,” and so on. “Our purchasing power is in all of us together, not in isolation,” he added.

Godinez said it’s a similar story when it comes to recruiting franchises.

Dollar Tree/Family Dollar, for example, weren’t very interested in building separate franchises in individual cities, he noted, but things changed when a regional approach was taken.

ANOTHER success story is the Osa Martin Heights Addition, a Chanute housing project. Advanced System Homes is the contractor there, as are other eastern Kansas locations, including Neodesha.

Although the project started several years ago, a series of brand new houses have recently been built on the property.

Godinez said a trick to put new roofs there is directly contacting local industries and working to generate interest.

“We’re really trying to promote that neighborhood to HR reps,” he said, “about using that neighborhood as a recruiting tool.”

But they also went a step further.

As Godinez explained, “when Orizon came, we offered that if a worker built there, they could get that piece for free.”

You can imagine that more than one of the Orizon employees took up the offer.

What about existing properties that could use a makeover?

When it comes to revitalization, Godinez said that programming is key, that is, creating mechanisms so that property owners can utilize all available resources.

“It ensures that everyone who has resources, be it Kansas Main Street, the Department of Commerce, etc,” he said.

This means that “every [rehabilitation project] is a bit different’, especially with regard to what existing programs/resources may be available or effective.

Matt Godinez, of the Chanute Regional Development Authority, explores the Osa Martin Heights Addition in Chanute with Jonathon Goering of Thrive Allen County.
Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Consider the historic Mason’s Building in Chanute.

According to Godinez, when the building owner’s husband died, instead of selling it, she donated it to the Chanute Land Bank, a mechanism that allows “problem properties” to be unloaded tax-free (and owned by the land bank).

“We have hired a developer and we hope to have about 30 apartments downtown,” Godinez said of the plans for the building.

“Seven or eight things made that project possible,” he explained, including the land bank, specific tax cuts and more.

And where did some of that land banking knowledge come from? Again, think about regionalism.

“We work with Neodesha all the time,” Godinez said. “They have a great land bank. We learned a lot from Neodesha.”

ANOTHER way to promote housing, according to Godinez, is through the strategic use of taxpayers’ money.

Matt Godinez, of the Chanute Regional Development Authority, talks to Jonathon Goering of Thrive Allen County about housing and the importance of regional partnerships. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

For example, he and others have successfully lobbied for an additional quarter-cent sales tax in Chanute, where the money is specifically earmarked for economic development/housing.

With regard to half of the funds, “Every month we put money back into a grant fund that we can donate back to the downtown businesses.”

The other half will go to the city of Chanute for revitalization projects for buildings owned by the city.

Such measures were also enthusiastically supported, with Godinez recalling that they were approved by up to 70% of voters, who were hungry for local improvements.

And, of course, there must also be support from elected officials.

“I’ve had very good city assignments,” Godinez said. “And I’ve had some good economic development committees.”

“But if you don’t have a governing body that believes in economic development, you’re out of luck.”

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