The event: Kansas City Mayoral Candidate Forum on Real Estate, sponsored by various area real estate and apartment groups. Thursday evening, Medallion Theater at Plexpod Westport.
Attendees: Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn, attorney Steve Miller and Kansas City Council members Alissia Canady, Jolie Justus, Quinton Lucas, Scott Taylor, Scott Wagner.
Top of the group’s agenda: What’s in it for real estate?
One of city government’s primary functions is governing land use, so for developers, landlords and builders, this election is huge.
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Frustrated residents tired of large tax abatements for luxury high-rises are pushing a cap on incentives, which none of the candidates support. The new mayor and council could set the tone for business in Kansas City for years to come.
The group, with Fox 4’s Mark Alford as moderator, wanted candidates’ views on incentives and how they would remove regulatory hurdles to getting building permits; what they’d do to create more affordable housing, and whether they would support mandatory energy-efficiency upgrades, something the industry fears will stem from an energy reporting requirement the city passed several years ago.
Wagner said the city forces developers to spend thousands of dollars and hire attorneys to get a project approved. He said that’s where the city should look to “wipe out red tape.”
“I’ve had people come up to me who were trying to build one house and said... ‘I’m having to hire an attorney because we have switched things between what the city did on that single piece of property five years ago to what happened today,” Wagner said.
Lucas on mandatory green upgrades: “We want to make sure that we’re actually being more environmentally friendly with our buildings. I think it’s up to City Hall to try to help you with those situations with subsidies to the extent we can.”
Glynn, who was a member of the tax-increment financing commission and runs a business that builds affordable housing, said incentives should be used in communities that can’t access private capital. He said he would work with council members to set geographic boundaries so Kansas City’s incentive tools are used in needy areas.
“When you have to have your lawyer camped out at City Hall to figure out if you can get incentives, that just drives up your costs, which drives up your rents or the price of your customers’ products,” Glynn said. “So we need to be clear about only using our economic incentive programs in the communities that truly need them.”
Affordable housing is the hot issue, and every candidate is talking about it. But the city has yet to identify a source for the $75 million it wants to invest over the next five years.
Wagner says that money should come from a property tax increase he hopes to put in front of voters in November.
“Now, you may say, ‘Scott, I don’t want to be taxed,’” Wagner said. “And I would say, ‘That’s fine.’ I want to ask that question because if you’re not prepared to do that then that means that affordable housing, quite honestly, isn’t that important to you.”
Lucas wants to use the community development block grants the city already gets from the federal government.
“(Wagner) and I were at a committee hearing the other day where our Housing Department had proposed that we spend $800,000 of that money on parking lots in the 3rd District,” Lucas said. “Now, I’m from the third district; I love it. I love being there. But what we don’t need are more parking lots. The idea is this: every year the city is getting roughly $8 million a year — times five, that’s $40 million. If we actually had some plan for how we’re spending that money, like a Housing Trust Fund type policy, then you could do real gap filling and not just fill whatever project is coming in saying, ‘Hey, we need some cash.’”
He also suggested using proceeds from a 1/8-cent sales tax increase voters passed to invest on the East Side.
Taylor pushed for a local fund to help fix up existing housing stock. He also touted a provision for a $10 million home repair fund in his East Side Revitalization Plan that passed last year.
Now all that’s needed is $10 million.
“We are currently in the process, the city manager, of getting funds from banks to start that fund pretty soon,” Taylor said. “That will help to keep affordable housing stock in good shape for a long period of time and keep the prices down.”
The forums continue to be amicable affairs. But with a month until the primary, subtle jabs are starting.
Asked what made her the most qualified to lead the city, Canady said she had demonstrated her ability to do what’s right without bending to politics, touting her stand-alone ‘no’ vote just hours earlier against the proposed new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
Playing on Jolie Justus’ signature opening line that the city is “on a roll,” Canady went on:
“But some people are getting rolled over. Some people are getting gunned down. And those people need an advocate who’s going to be responsive and be respectful of their concerns and engage them in the process and encourage them to show up on April 2.”
Cross-candidate fact check:
In recent forums, Miller has advocated the city update its 20-year-old FOCUS plan to govern development and encourage job creation, environmental sustainability, security and other city priorities.
But Thursday night, Taylor corrected the record to say the city included funding for a focus plan update in the recently-released budget proposal. The city also has area plans that specifically govern development and land use across the city.
Emphasis on experience:
Justus said she had spent 13 years dedicated to moving Kansas City forward.
“I did it first as your state senator where I spent eight years in the deep minority,” said Justus, a Democrat. “And what I learned very quickly is that you work across party lines to get things done.”
She said she does it with “collaboration, not agitation” and she wanted to keep working with people who may not agree with her but can work together.
“Since I’ve been on the City Council, that’s exactly what we’ve done. They hand us really tough ideas, and this council works them through. Today [Thursday] we had a vote that was critically important on the airport. We passed that thing out today, and we’re building a new single terminal at KCI, and that is going to be crucial for the future of our city. And we did it because we worked together, we got a plan and, now, we’re executing it.”
Miller, the oldest candidate in the race, often touts his 35-year career as a construction attorney.
“We’re going to dream big because we have to seize this moment,” Miller said. “We are the largest city in a 500-mile radius in the most prosperous part of the country. Sometimes we just don’t dream big enough. Together we’re going to do that.”