BY CORIE LYNN
Grow Hays works within the Hays and Ellis County communities to promote business and economic development. Part of this mission includes enacting local housing initiatives.
Such initiatives have included home rehabilitation, but, according to Executive Director Doug Williams, the nonprofit is developing a new project to meet a community need.
“I’m a former real estate broker,” Williams said, “so I have kind of a unique perspective on what the local real estate market is like. And I have felt for a long time that we are lacking in a specific type of housing that would be built, basically, for retirees.”
He explained that retiree housing is physically designed to accommodate the needs of an older generation. These homes have minimal stair, doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and larger bathrooms. At present, Hays lacks homes with the retiree population in mind.
In providing housing for this specific population, Williams and Grow Hays hopes to retain the retirees currently living in Hays and attract still more. According to economic opportunity profile, retirees are the top economic driver in the city, bringing $375,425,000 in earnings to Hays in 2017.
Though retirees help drive the local economy, the City has something to offer them too.
“It’s a safe community. We’ve got a wonderful medical center. We have a university that has activities, you know, Encore Series and that type of thing that retirees might find of interest,” Williams said.
Describing the lack of adequate housing as a non-starter, Williams hopes that by creating the needed housing, Hays can retain its populations and retirees can find homes that meet their needs.
At present, a task force is looking at a 17-acre area of land north of Hays Medical Center as a potential site for the community. Though this space is owned by Hays Med, the medical center is in favor of the housing project.
“We like the idea that it’s right next door, not only to the medical center,” Williams said, “but the Center for Health Improvement so people who live there could have access to the Center for Health Improvement, to the pool there and the exercise equipment and those kinds of things.”
In addition to living near the hospital, residents would be in single-family homes that could range from one bedroom to four bedrooms, providing for a range of space needs. Williams explained that the homes would also be entirely independent living.
He and Grow Hays also plan to include a multigenerational community center on the property, ideally boasting a daycare, a space for social and educational gatherings, and take the place of the senior meal center located near Hays Regional Airport.
Because of this latter aspect of the retiree community, the task force is looking at similar centers across Kansas and the nation for inspiration.
Though Grow Hays and Hays Med are excited by the prospect of the housing community, making it a reality is still years out.
“It’s just an idea now. The next step is to engage this site design firm and have them come up with some concepts, two or three different concepts for what a site design might look like,” Williams said.
The benefits of such a community, however, continue to drive Williams and Grow Hays in bringing the housing project to fruition.
In addition to bolstering the Hays economy by retaining retirees and attracting more from other areas, this specially designed housing meets the needs of those who no longer need a large house, allowing them to downsize and other families to move in.
“If we add the housing to it,” Williams said, “it just puts us in that much better position to grow that part of our community. And those are typically excellent people you want to bring into a community because they typically have disposable income, they’ve retired, they can add a lot to a community.”
As he explained, though, this is a project that requires patiences. The concept of the community, including its design and the roles of Grow Hays and Hays Med in developing it, must be thought out before building can begin.
Based on the potential benefits, the housing community will be well worth the wait.
“Lots of things that we need to think through and kind of put together here, but I do think it would be a huge impact to our community and a positive impact for quality of life as well as economically for the community,” Williams said.