Housing Trends by Gregg Motley

Gregg Motley. President of the Regional Economic Development, Inc. Submitted photo.


I have written in previous columns that the population of every Southeast Kansas County declined between the 2010 and 2020 census; it was the first decade that Crawford County joined their regional neighbors to make bad news unanimous.  Along with the population drop has come a steep decline in the number of housing units in Bourbon County from the peak in 1980; this is a real problem.  It just makes sense that we cannot attract new businesses, or even significant business expansions by our existing employers, if we do not have quality, affordable housing in which to welcome new workers.


How bad is the problem?  It appears that the 1970’s was the golden decade for housing in Bourbon County, as the 1980 population stood at 15,969 residents living in an all-time high of 7,194 housing units. By the 2020 census, the count was 14,360 people which is a 10.1% drop. Housing dropped as well, falling to 6,770 units, a loss of 424.  Most of that drop occurred between 2010 and 2020.  Demolition crews must have been busy during the decade.


Other Southeast Kansas counties have experienced a similar stress in their housing markets; the exception is Crawford County, who continues to add to their housing inventory in every decade since 1990.  Linn County experienced robust growth in the number of houses in the county every decade until peaking at 5,446 in 2010, when their population was 9,656.  In the next 10 years, they lost only 65 people, but nearly 400 houses.


The most telling statistics for Bourbon County is the lack of housing starts in recent years and current rental vacancy data.  In the four years beginning in 2017, Bourbon County issued 11 building permits for a total value of $1.16 million.  Over the same period, Allen County, with a total 2020 population of 1,834 less than Bourbon County, issued 49 building permits totaling $7.12 million; not an insignificant difference.  To continue the comparison, both Allen County and Bourbon County have about 29% of their housing units dedicated to rental.  Over the last five years, our vacancy rate has averaged 15.1%; Allen County is at 12.5%.  Given the high demand for quality rental properties, we must have many unrentable units that need attention.  We need to explore the cause of high rental vacancy while rental demand appears to be high.


The Southeast Kansas model county in the area of housing is Linn County.  In the four year period previously discussed, the county issued 205 building permits with a value of $23.04 million.  Their rental vacancy is almost half of ours at 8.5%.  Clearly they are doing something right.  My instinct tells me they are leveraging their water amenities effectively.


We need to swallow our pride and take a closer look at why Southeast Kansas counties, including Allen, Anderson, Cherokee, Crawford, Linn, Neosho and even tiny Woodson County can attract new housing and we can’t seem to get the job done.  We also need to understand why we have the highest vacancy rate of rental houses in the region.  Then we need to work together to solve the problems.


5 thoughts on “Housing Trends by Gregg Motley”

  1. Have you drove through town lately? No one would want to live here after driving through the neighborhoods. Trashy, unkempt delapitated houses on every single street. Some empty. Some occupied. Trash on the streets. Overgrown yards. Grass growing up between bricks on the streets. Partly because people park boats RVs or broken down cars and NEVER move them. And nothing is done about any of this. I assume the powers that be do not have to look at this or maybe they have some sort of incentive to look away. Has anyone seen the fence of metal sheeting on Horton. It is there to hide chained up dogs. But no one does anything. Dogs are chained in deplorable conditions all over town and the city ignores it. No one wants to see this everyday that has an ounce of compassion for animals or pride in their community. Been here 4 years and nothing has changed. Except it is getting worse. I am wanting out. Why should anyone invest in the area if the powers that be are determined to watch it slowly die

  2. Below are the actual crime statistics from the Kansas Statistical Abstract, which shows crime in BB and LN LOWER than the statewide average. Opinions in this space would be more credible if they were not anonymous and based on data and facts, not how people “felt.”

    Crimes per 1,000 residents
    2018 2019
    County Violent Property Total Violent Property Total
    Allen 3.0 23.9 26.9 4.1 22.0 26.1
    Anderson 2.2 15.2 17.4 2.0 13.4 15.4
    Bourbon 4.4 21.8 26.2 3.8 9.2 13.0
    Cherokee 3.0 22.7 25.7 2.6 19.0 21.6
    Crawford 3.1 29.6 32.7 3.3 36.5 39.8
    Labette 6.0 22.1 28.1 4.4 23.3 27.7
    Linn 0.6 5.2 5.8 2.5 11.1 13.6
    Montgmry 4.4 38.7 43.1 5.6 31.0 36.6
    Neosho 1.6 6.5 8.1 0.7 2.8 3.5
    Kansas 4.2 27.2 31.4 4.3 25.0 29.3
    Anyone going to take Craig Campbell up on his offer to help make our community better?

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