City Manager Cherise Tieben's firm belief housing construction was a market-driven segment of the economy didn't survive a 2007 meeting with exasperated Dodge City bankers, developers, realtors and employers.

She learned from the group the southwest Kansas community's housing stock was profoundly inadequate and the private sector was incapable of keeping pace. Teachers were residing in colleagues' basements. Employers placed hires in hotels for up to six months. Families paid a premium for deplorable rentals. Bank financing was scarce. Most homes on the market were overpriced.

A study showed the city would require 950 housing units by 2013, but banks were prohibited from offering rural development loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture because Dodge City no longer met the definition of rural.

"We quickly realized this was an issue the city couldn't take on all by itself," Tieben said Thursday in testimony to the House Rural Revitalization Committee. "We literally used the scatter-gun approach."

The city plunged ahead with acronym-laden incentives through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), Rural Housing Incentive Districts (RHIDS) and Moderate Income Housing Program (MIH). They formed Community Housing Association of Dodge City (CHAD) to tackle blight projects and abandoned homes. City-owned surplus property was provided to developers.

Tieben said the result has been the addition of 340 housing units serving Dodge City residents. Twenty units are under construction and 160 more are being planned, she said.

"We left no stone unturned in our efforts," Tieben said. "We have touched every aspect of housing from single-family, high-market values to low-income, as well as multifamily market value to low-income rentals."

Matt Gillum, vice president of the Kansas Housing Association, said the best vehicle for removing barriers to rural housing development would be expansion of the state's MIH program. The state invests $2 million annually, he said, but the program received three times more requests than funding allowed. He recommended doubling the budget to $4 million.

"Increasing the program's funding will have an immediate and direct impact on tangible rental development in the rural markets," Gillum said.

Lynne Hinrichsen, state director of the USDA's rural development program, said the agency was deeply involving in assisting with expansion of housing in Kansas. The agency offers loans and grants to provide housing for farm laborers in urban or rural areas, Hinrichsen said.

In Kansas, Hinrichsen said, USDA farm labor projects have been built in Dodge City and Rexford, while one was under construction in Ulysses and potential exists for similar projects in Lakin and Garden City.