Photo by Lizzy Baker
ST. JOHN— Waking up before dawn and biking 80 miles in the summer heat may sound extreme to some, but doing so is just a normal day for participants of Bike and Build, an affordable housing nonprofit that bikes cross country annually. In years past, Bike and Build teams have stopped in Stafford County, spending two nights in St. John to work with Stafford County Economic Development (Eco Devo).
Due to COVID-19, the summer of 2020 is the first time in its 17-year history that Bike and Build has not sent riders across the country. Eco Devo and Bike and Build adapted quickly to this change of plans in the spring, and the two organizations collaborated to create a summer internship in St. John.
Two cyclists-turned-interns, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Baker and Eliza Lawrence, arrived in St. John in late June and began work with Eco Devo. Baker and Lawrence have since worked on a variety of projects in St. John, including the development of an outdoor community space and working on the renovation of an old photography studio in town.
While not the typical Bike and Build summer, this collaborative internship has still given Baker and Lawrence a unique chance to do hands-on affordable housing and economic development work.
Normally, Bike and Build sends 75 young-adult cyclists across the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along northern, central, and southern routes. In late May, riders dip their back wheel in the Atlantic, beginning a journey that travels over 3,000 miles in ten weeks. Along the way, these teams complete an average of 10,000 hours of service and raise over $375,000 for the affordable housing cause.
During their summer trip, Bike and Build riders spend one day a week off their bikes, constructing homes and participating in community-based education work. In 2014, the Bike and Build central route team passed through Dodge City, Kansas, where they first met the founding Executive Director of Eco Devo, Carolyn Dunn. Dunn traveled from her home in St. John to speak to the Bike and Build team about rural affordable housing. The following year, Dunn reached out to Bike and Build organizers, and St. John has since hosted a Bike and Build team in 2015, 2016, and 2019.
The work that Bike and Build has completed in Stafford County varies widely, as projects depend on the specific needs of Eco Devo. In years past, volunteer days have included the partial demolition of a home in Hudson, the painting of houses in Stafford, and construction work on an apartment in St. John.
Fort Hays State University has extended their enrollment for the Dodge City Hybrid RN to BSN remote program until November 1st! If anyone is interested or knows of someone interested please contact Ashlee in our office who can connect you with Kyla at the Dodge City/Ford County Development Corporation for more information. Don’t miss out on this awesome opportunity to complete your degree locally!
We are partnering with Dodge City/Ford County Development Corporation to bring an RN to BSN remote Program to Stafford County! The equipment for the class has been installed in the Workspace 311 conference room at 311 N Broadway in St. John. If interested, please call the Fort Hays State University Department of Nursing at 785-628-4256.
By Elizabeth Baker/Special to the News - St. John News published August 16, 2020
A member of the KSU Dept. of Architecture team secures two wall panels together at the Net+ home at 8th and Broadway in St. John. Photo by Elizabeth Baker
ST. JOHN, KS— With all its intricacies and individualism, St. John, Kansas offers residents a unique way of life in south-central Kansas. Yet, St. John is similar to most towns across America in one core way: its struggle for adequate affordable housing.
A lack of affordable housing is found in almost every corner of the United States, be it in populated metropolitan areas or small, rural towns. Despite a strong focus and success rate of economic development measures, St. John is not exempt from this fight for enough safe, affordable, and stable housing for residents.
The issue of affordable housing looks drastically different across the United States and the realities of this issue vary in different communities. Most simply put, a home is affordable if mortgage or rent payments, as well as taxes and basic utilities, do not exceed 30% of a household’s gross income. ( source )
The rising cost of living, coupled with a stagnant minimum wage, has made affordable housing even less accessible. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates that one in every four renter households across the United States has extremely low income and cannot afford the rent.
In Kansas, the minimum wage is equivalent to the federal minimum wage: $7.25 per hour. The NLIHC lists the necessary salary to afford average rent in Kansas at more than double that amount at a wage of at least $15.59 per hour.
In St. John, the median household income is a bit over $43,000, a full $13,000 less than the state average. Almost 1,200 residents reside full time in St. John, boasting a median age of 36.2 years old.
When affordable housing is discussed, the focus tends to be on bigger cities with large populations of houseless people. While society is in tune with the ways in which rural areas are impacted by economic decline, affordable housing is still often left out of these conversations.
Affordable housing is a keystone piece of maintaining small-town communities. In smaller towns, the effects of unaffordable housing on middle-class residents in addition to lower-income populations is even more apparent.
Efforts to aid the affordable housing crisis often look at other factors that may affect a person’s ability to find and maintain housing. For example, the “Housing First” approach to homelessness posits the simple fact that housing is a necessary first step to improving one’s position in life. Such models are guided by the understanding that basic necessities, such as shelter and food, must come prior to any other needs such as finding stable employment or addressing mental or behavioral health issues.
Rural affordable housing efforts specifically are intertwined with the USDA program Section 515. This program subsidizes the construction of affordable rural homes for rent via construction cost and landlord assistance. Section 515 has created over 28,000 rural and affordable properties across the United States since 1963.
Affordable housing efforts also commonly bring understanding to how housing intersects with broader community development goals. The necessity for such understanding becomes especially important in small, rural towns such as St. John.
Carolyn Dunn, Director of Stafford County Economic Development, discusses the work that her organization does for affordable housing, balancing “the idea of how affordable housing intersects with effective overall community development.” Dunn highlights the need to “sustain schools and essential social services that make a community a community” in discussing affordable housing.
The Stafford County Economic Development team has made community development a focus since its founding and affordable housing continues to be an aspect of this focus.
As society continues to understand the varying facets of the affordable housing crisis, rural towns such as St. John will continue to tackle social issues with perseverance, practical solutions, and an optimistic outlook for the years ahead.
Stafford County Economic Development
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