Partners break ground on NEAT’s first sustainable housing project on N. Topping on Monday, Aug. 10. From left to right: Councilman Eric Bunch, David Stadler, Marshaun Butler, Yahna Gibson, John Fierro, Julie Lane, Tate Williams, John Wood, Scott Wagner, Beth Beavers and Reda Ibrahim. Photo by Abby Hoover

Mattie Rhodes Center’s Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT) broke ground on a new net zero, affordable single-family home at 133 N. Topping Ave. on Monday.

The project, which is being developed in collaboration with Kansas State University (K-State) and CoBuild, is in the Indian Mound neighborhood, which NEAT describes as diverse, tight-knit and eclectic, but threatened by a shortage of quality, safe and affordable housing.

K-State’s School of Architecture will create a thoughtfully-designed, healthy, energy efficient and affordable home that will help a household thrive while also investing in their neighborhood and strengthening their community in the long term.

Director of NEAT Scott Wagner said this project is three years in the making, but in a sense dates back to 2013 when the Mattie Rhodes Center set out to get into housing.

Mattie Rhodes obtained the property from the Land Bank of Kansas City, Missouri and made the request for home funds from the city, which are federal funds.

Wagner thanked former NEAT Director Mary Cyr for her work at the outset of the project.

“There’s a lot of history and a lot of energy that’s been put to this and, frankly, I think a lot of expectation that it would get done so that we could move on to more housing projects,” Wagner said, adding that the hope is that this project will be the first of many similar single-family homes, including new builds and rehabilitation.

Councilman Eric Bunch praised the creative solutions of the design team, contractors and community as a step toward solving problems through affordable, sustainable housing.

A sketch of the house is on display at the job site. Photo by Abby Hoover

CoBuild works with non-profit Emerging Builders, a program that provides on-the-job construction training and educational opportunities for women and people of color (POC), and RK Contractors, which focuses on hiring Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air because we’ve been talking about it for quite a bit and there were so many pieces that were not in place and we didn’t know how they were going to work out,” Emerging Builders Director Yahna Gibson said. “One was getting the panels here, and when that happened it started to feel like it was coming together.”

While it is not Emerging Builders’ first project in Northeast, it is their first project with Mattie Rhodes, and it is their first new build. The 12-week project will begin once the slab has been poured.

“I think because of the involvement that Mattie Rhodes has in the community that [the neighbors are] welcoming it,” Gibson said. “It’s another vacant lot that’s going to get a new house and a new family.”

Beth Beavers, secretary of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association Board said the board’s focus is on protecting the neighborhood’s current residents and current housing stock, making sure it stays affordable. She worked with K-State students and got to watch them gather input from residents and research the architecture of the neighborhood.

CoBuild manages the job sites, giving the Emerging Builders the opportunity to work under the various tradespeople to learn all the different trades throughout their apprenticeship program.

“My job is to make sure the project gets built to code, to city compliance, and that it’s going to stand up forever,” CoBuild General Contractor Tate Williams said. “I manage our staff that is actually going to be doing the construction, as well as subcontractors of various trades who are going to come help us get this project completed.”

From left to right: John Wood, Tate Williams and Scott Wagner. Photo by Abby Hoover

While COVID-19 has affected many industries, Williams said construction hasn’t changed much, aside from macro-level disruptions around shipping and supplies. At his job sites, workers are practicing social distancing, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer regularly.

“It’s really kind of interesting that a lot of people my age, you know, millennials and younger, have talked about construction as sort of like a not as desirable job, or career, but it’s one of the few that’s been deemed essential post-COVID,” he said. “There’s some really interesting things happening around the conversation about construction and about the future work force post-COVID and the reality that we can’t live without good quality, affordable housing.”

Williams is a resident of the Pendleton Heights neighborhood, and sits on the neighborhood association’s board. He said it feels fantastic to contribute to his community in this way, with housing prices creeping up in Pendleton Heights and other Northeast neighborhoods, making affordability increasingly out of reach for a lot of homeowners.

“I’m super excited to be able to be involved in the broader Northeast conversation, both as a representative of the neighborhood, but also as a resident contributing to the broader community, not just Pendleton Heights,” Williams said.

Wagner said choosing CoBuild as the general contractor was somewhat serendipitous.

“I think it’s great in a number of ways,” Wagner said. “One, he’s in Northeast, two, with the connection with Emerging Builders there’s an opportunity to add a training element to this so that now we’re not only talking about affordable housing, but now we’re talking about job creation, we’re talking about training. We’re talking about how – with him as a local partner – to begin to scale this and do more of it.”

NEAT’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all in the Historic Northeast, and one of the organization’s broader goals is to work with various organizations, residents and other stakeholders to bring creative, collective solutions to community needs.

“Throughout the history of Mattie Rhodes, we have been guided by the needs of the most vulnerable, affordable housing is just the latest example of our commitment and service to our community,” said John Fierro, President and CEO of Mattie Rhodes Center.