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.


2 thoughts on “Housing Trends by Gregg Motley”

  1. People from other areas are afraid to live here, and afraid to live in Linn county so I don’t understand why they’d be our example.
    We need better mental health resources, drug and alcohol rehabs, and domestic violence shelters, better LEOs in the community if we want people to live here.
    I felt safer on Troost at 2am then I do in my own home.

  2. We need more “amenities”.
    We have basically one “normal” restaurant in the entire town. Luther’s. Everything else is a bar or fast food, or breakfast type place.
    We have no “date night” type of entertainment in town. No nightclubs, no bowling, no Dave n Busters, nothing.
    75% of the town is run down and looks like a place I wouldn’t want to get out of the car
    We have no shopping, Walmart is it. We don’t even have a grocery store. Downtown “Antique Stores” are mostly for tourists. I’m not going in there to buy used “stuff” on a regular basis.
    Charm and Character, we’ve got plenty of that. But a LOT of work will need to be done to attract more than the welfare class to town.
    And getting someone to want to live in Ft Scott, well that’s like getting somebody to say the IRS is their favorite government agency.
    New housing, new shopping, new entertainment, new roads, clean up the trash. Going to take a lot to bring people in. I don’t see it EVER happening. City management is either too ignorant, too corrupt, or just likes things the way they are

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