This story was originally published in the Wichita Eagle newspaper on December 10, 2013

Wichita conference to focus on rural rental-housing challenges

by Jerry Siebenmark

WICHITA, KS About 150 government, civic and business leaders from across Kansas will meet in Wichita on Tuesday to discuss the state of rental properties and apartments in rural communities.

The 2013 Kansas Rural Housing Conference will be at the Kansas Health Foundation's Kansas Leadership Center, 325 E. Douglas.

The Leadership Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are co-hosting the invitation-only, four-hour-log conference with Wichita real estate developer J. Van Sickle & Co.

The conference is a first of sorts for Kansas, said USDA Rural Development state director Patty Clark, in that its focus is on rental and multifamily properties in small towns.

"This is the first time collected resources; partners; emerging, innovative ideas; and rural communities are coming together, specifically to address rural housing properties," she said.

Clark said rental housing options are often limited in rural communities because of a variety of factors, including property deterioration and lack of a balance of rental inventory that meets the spectrum of incomes in a rural area.

"It's a dilemma that is shared across all rural communities, whether you are talking about Dodge City or Wellington, Hiawatha, Atchison, Chanute, Humboldt, Independence," she said.

The conference will touch on programs and services offered by USDA Rural Development - in fiscal year 2013 it provided more than $233 million in loan guarantees, directed loans and rental assistance in Kansas - as well as some of the "emerging and innovative ideas" to overcome the rural rental housing challenges.

That's where J. Van Sickle comes in. The idea for the conference started in late October originally as a meeting between Clark and Jason Van Sickle, president of J. Van Sickle & Co. His company has developed a model to build apartments in rural communities by spreading the development and construction costs among contractors, architects, land owners and his company.

Van Sickle said a company pitch is not how he views the conference's purpose. "I think the main focus should be how to work together in public-private partnerships," he said. "This conference will bring together those communities to discuss real solutions to the rural housing problem."