Government & Politics

Kansas City rolls out sweeping affordable housing plan. Some landlords are opposed

Kansas City officials introduced a first-ever housing policy Sept. 12, 2018, intended to increase the supply of homes and apartments at all income levels.
Kansas City officials introduced a first-ever housing policy Sept. 12, 2018, intended to increase the supply of homes and apartments at all income levels. Bigstock

Howard Adams became a Kansas City landlord while he was still a delivery driver, rehabbing houses himself and renting them out to provide a retirement income.

Most go for $500 to $700 a month, he said, squarely in the range of what city policymakers would call affordable housing — a major element of the sweeping new five-year housing plan introduced by city officials Wednesday.

Adams was one of about a dozen property owners who came to City Hall to say that portions of the plan, if adopted, would hinder their ability to do business.

“I feel I have helped improve the lives of many of my tenants,” Adams, 72, told the City Council’s housing committee. He said he had the flexibility to take chances on tenants with sketchy credit or work histories because he “looked at each applicant as an individual.”

Among the draft’s 70 pages are a series of provisions enhancing tenants’ rights. They include prohibiting landlords from turning away prospective tenants if they had been evicted more than five years ago, or were involved in an eviction lawsuit they won. The draft policy would also bar landlords from discriminating on the basis of an applicant’s source of income. This would include housing vouchers or Social Security.

“What you are proposing will take that flexibility away from me,” Adams said. “I will have to look for higher credit scores, longer periods on the job and no contact with the court system.”

Rents and security deposits would go up “to allow for the extended costs of removal of a tenant should I make a bad judgment call,” he said.

Tenant advocates said the proposed protections are an essential part of any new housing policy.

Gina Chiala, executive director and staff attorney for the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, spoke in favor of provisions for expanded legal representation of tenants trying to navigate eviction proceedings in court.

“These people do not have access to counsel,” Chiala said, adding that she’s seen many defendants unwittingly sign their own eviction documents.

The testimony followed a briefing by city staff on the major objectives of the plan, which combine short- and long-term goals intended to grow the supply of rental and owner-occupied housing at all income levels.

Neighborhood and Housing Services Director John Wood said the plan reflects aspirations to make Kansas City a model for progressive housing policy.

“The bottom line is what do we want to be known for when we grow up?” Wood said.

Major goals include construction or preservation of 5,000 low- to moderately-priced single-family homes or apartments by the end of 2023. The plan also calls for creation of a $75 million public-private housing trust fund to make loans and grants for rehabilitation and preservation of homes.

How such a trust would be funded was a question that went unanswered.. Among the public sector options are the sale of general obligation bonds or revenue from the Central City Economic Development sales tax approved by voters last year.

Some council members want to move more quickly to make changes. City Councilman Quinton Lucas, housing committee chairman, and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner said they plan to introduce a series of measures at Thursday’s City Council legislative session. They include:

Creation of a $15 million housing trust fund financed exclusively with city money; $10 million would come from an increase on out-of-state online purchases of more than $2,000, and $5 million from the central city sales tax revenue.

An ordinance requiring that at least 15 percent of all new residential construction receiving tax abatements or other incentives include units affordable for households making up to 80 percent of the city’s median income, or about $39,000.

An ordinance that would temporarily relax property code enforcement for people rehabilitating vacant homes.

A resolution asking the city manager to prepare within 30 days a plan for establishing “inclusionary zoning” for all new residential projects. Such a system would require builders include units at a mix of income levels in exchange for the right to build at greater size.

Wagner and Lucas said they would like to gain City Council passage of the measures by the end of the year.