We Need Quality Housing! By Greg Motley

Greg Motley. President of the Bourbon County Economic Development Council. Submitted photo.

Submitted by Greg Motley, President of Bourbon County Economic Development Council.


Last week I gave 10 reasons why our community is shrinking; next, I will address what can be done to stem the tide. None of these solutions are particularly easy; after all, we are fighting megatrends that are impacting most small towns in America.

Our most obvious need in Bourbon County/Fort Scott is quality housing. There is a dearth of desirable places for people to buy and call home at all price points, but particularly in the mid-range. Do you realize that more than one in three workers you see around the county every day have driven in from another jurisdiction because they can’t find an affordable, quality alternative closer to their workplace?

You have probably noticed that not too many new homes have been built around the county in the recent past. The problem stems from building costs compared to the appraised value of the property once it is completed. Excluding land, with modest finishes, it costs a minimum of $150 per square foot to build a new home; that cost has accelerated dramatically during the pandemic, as lumber has skyrocketed. Lenders cannot get appraisals to come out anywhere close to the real number it costs to build a house in Bourbon County, so the homeowner has thrown away thousands of dollars in equity on day one of homeownership. How many Southeast Kansans can afford that loss?

What is the problem? Years of low comparable sales data, along with high taxes on Bourbon County real estate, are the two main culprits. Our mil levy combined for all jurisdictions inside the county are much higher than our neighbors, especially Missourians. Hundreds of people own homes in our neighbor to the east, while paying MUCH lower property taxes, then commuting to Bourbon County for a good job and pay a lower state income tax rate. It is a win-win for Show-me Staters.

What is to be done? Here are a couple of thoughts:

We HAVE to lower taxes. High mil levies have a direct impact on home values. Additionally, people have a strong disincentive to improve, or add on to their properties. To accomplish this, we must look to lower the cost of government by looking to see how we can cooperate with one another between jurisdictions and share services.

We have to look at where prices are closer to the market, and develop those areas. Market pricing is closer to cost on, and around, Lake Fort Scott land, and large lot subdivisions around the area, such as along Maple Road. Can we get government owned land into the hands of developers and back on the tax rolls? Are there actions we can take as a community in these areas to narrow the gap between cost and appraisal?

We have to consider options at all price points. In-fill vacant lots in the city will require grant money or a charitable donation to work. Similarly, mid-price housing will require creativity and an outside injection of capital.

This quality housing dilemma will take time to solve, but we need to dedicate ourselves to an outside-the-box, persistent search for solutions. We need to tackle it together as a community.

12 thoughts on “We Need Quality Housing! By Greg Motley”

  1. Thanks for writing what we all know to be the truth about our town.
    Taxes are way too high, both property and sales taxes. Our local governments spend too much (usually on themselves) and bending over backwards for the poverty class that will probably never pull themselves out of poverty.
    You can’t build a successful city on the backs of the poor, it takes a strong middle class to get and keep an economy going.

    1. Agreed. While we need to keep the poor in our line of sight, focusing exclusively on low-income housing does not solve the problem, nor create new jobs.

  2. If they truly want to make Fort Scott more attractive to businesses and individuals looking to possibly move here there are 2 things that can be done right now. Clean up the properties and get rid of uninhabitable houses.
    Judging from what I see just driving across town code enforcement has no teeth or desire to improve our town. Peeling paint on dilapidated houses is hardly a welcome sign. Furniture brokendown cars trash and whatnot collecting in yards and on porches. Clean up the place and make it look like somewhere you would want to live.
    With so much history why not increase the budget for tourism. There is a lot to offer but people need to know about it in Kansas City Joplin Wichita etc. Just my thoughts….

    1. Pamela, you’re spot on. It cost NOTHING for people to pick up there trash. I’ve been coming to Ft Scott for about 8 years, lived here the last 5. I look out my window and see the same two junk cars that have never moved in all that time. I don’t even go on the east side if town except to get to Nevada. I know we have some wonderful people on the east side, but so much of it is just “neglected”.

      1. Glad someone else feels as I do. I live on west side and it is almost as bad as the east side. Abandoned houses that roofs are caving in, corrugated metal used to hide dogs on chains, blue plastic tarp and old tires on roof of a abandoned mobile home plus numerous abandoned cars. This is just a few eyesores. There are to many to list. Trash everywhere. Where are the consequences for this behavior? And same as you I have been here for over 3 years and absolutely nothing has improved.

        1. You are correct. These are part of a long list of issues we MUST work on together if we are to attract quality housing and new people.

        2. You are correct. These are part of a long list of issues we MUST work on together if we are to attract quality housing and new people.

    2. All GREAT comments, Pamela. The tourism budget is set by the Transient Guest Tax collected by our motels and other lodging facilities. I believe the city is moving in the right direction in hiring a full-time professional to pursue more tourism opportunities for Fort Scott.

  3. Why is parking vehicles, boats, RV’s etc… on streets tolerated? Why not ticket or charge a fee for ‘Street-Parking’??? That would help raise the ‘curb-appeal’!

    We have an ‘pontoon’ boat parked on our street, WOW!!!

    1. I agree. Something needs to be done about it. There are many storage facilities they can use to store these vehicles. This just adds to the already dilapidated feel many of the streets have. Doesn’t anyone care about their neighborhood? And doesn’t the city care how this makes the whole place look? Sad. Very sad.

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