Government & Politics

Mayoral Q & A: Candidates strive to show they can address affordable housing dilemma

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Kansas City’s mayoral candidates answered an extensive questionnaire from The Star on key issues. Here are their responses to questions about affordable housing, edited for clarity and length.

How would you incentivize the construction of more affordable housing?

Scott Taylor: “The next mayor has a big role to make it clear that there is an expectation that an affordable housing component in multi-family development is important. We have not had as many new multi-family units starting construction in the last year as in the past, but some of them like CityClub on Main have a voluntary 20 percent affordable housing portion...We need to encourage more like this...We need to establish a local fund to close the gap on financing. Without it we have to rely on State Low Income Tax Credits or HUD.”

Alissia Canady: “I would encourage the private sector by providing Chapter 353 or similar tax abatements on properties that commit to meeting the greatest need in the $600-to-$800-a-month range for three-bedroom units; support leveraging state Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and encourage cooperative development partnerships with local Community Development Corporations (CDCs).”

Quinton Lucas: “I’d continue and expand on some of my current efforts on the Council, including passing a law that allows greater density for residential projects with affordable units located near transit lines. Eliminate incentives for projects not providing an affordable housing component. Fund the Housing Trust Fund—that exists in most of our peer cities—to help fill development gaps and rehab expenses for both multi-and-single-family housing. Allow greater infill development by modifying land bank rules to expand sales to neighborhood organization non-profits and encourage neighbors of vacant lots to buy adjoining lots.”

Steve Miller: “There is no one solution. Affordable housing needs to be integrated into market-rate housing projects to create mixed-income environments. The solutions we see around the country are implemented through public, private and philanthropic partnerships: P4s. These three sectors represent the necessary components to an effective housing strategy: policy & subsidies, debt & equity, grants and social impact investing. For instance, the Detroit Home Mortgage partnership is led by the Community Reinvestment Fund, the Kresge Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the city of Detroit, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, non-profits and participating banks.”

Scott Wagner: “To provide more affordable housing that is of good quality you have to have funds available to close financial gaps. Affordable housing is not ‘cheap’ housing. There is an expectation of quality, yet if lower rents are assumed, then something has to make projects financially work.”

Phil Glynn: “My business [Travois] has built thousands of homes nationwide through creative public-private partnerships. My focus will be on attracting private investment to housing in Kansas City for both working families and senior citizens. We can do this through tax credits, opportunity zones and streamlining development approvals at City Hall.”

Vincent Lee: Did not respond.

Jolie Justus: “In those areas where we have a lack of diversity in housing prices, public policy has a vital role. On a case-by-case basis, public economic incentives should encourage or require a material portion of affordable housing units. If we focus on the corridors between existing economic incentive successes, and with an eye toward public transportation lines, the city can encourage affordable residential life. Additionally, we should move forward with new proposals to fund the recently created Housing Trust Fund. One opportunity I would like to explore is creating a system that requires newly platted properties to fulfill an affordable housing requirement or payment to the Housing Trust Fund in lieu of the housing.”

Jermaine Reed: “We need to set an aggressive goal of ensuring that we create and preserve at least 5,000 affordable units by 2023. That starts by defining affordability based on local median incomes, with particular focus on those earning $30,000 or less annually. The fact of the matter is that Kansas City is relatively affordable to middle and high-income individuals, but affordable housing is disappearing for those who are low-income.”

Henry Klein: “Since I was a board president for Habitat for Humanity here in Kansas City, I would like to see more of the non-profit + for profit (corporations) + private citizen approach.”

Clay Chastain: Did not respond.

Nearly half of the city lives in rental housing. Do you think tenants need more protections against unlawful evictions or other abuses by landlords?

Taylor: “While we have passed the Healthy Homes ballot issue, I would also support looking at reasonable protections against unlawful evictions.”

Canady: “Yes, we need to support Legal Aid and Gina Chiala’s program for low-wage workers that don’t qualify for Legal Aid.”

Lucas: “The Healthy Homes ordinance was a step in the right direction, but Kansas City continues to need further support from a tenants’ rights organization and the City should increase its funding to Legal Aid of Western Missouri to support representation services to tenants.”

Miller: “As mayor, I will initiate a comprehensive review of the eviction situation in Kansas City to better quantify the problem and identify root causes; I will work with all stakeholders to fashion an appropriate remedy whether that is a change to current law; changes to enforcement or better aligning supportive services.”

Wagner: “The first thing is to make sure it is good housing. The Healthy Housing Inspection Program that I championed allows for that. Next, we have to make sure tenants are protected from bad landlords, and landlords also need protection from abuses by bad tenants. I believe a Rental Bill of Rights is in order and education of tenants is a must.”

Glynn: “I would advocate for enforcement of ordinances that protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. I would listen to those who are organizing for tenants rights. But the best thing Kansas City can do for working families and senior citizens in rental housing is to grow jobs and increase the supply of housing.”

Lee: Did not respond.

Justus: “We must continually strive to keep people in their homes. I have served as a pro bono lawyer in Kansas City for the last sixteen years. During that time, I have seen first hand how partnerships between legal service providers, the private sector and city and county officials have resulted in successful outcomes for Kansas City residents. As mayor, I would propose assisting Legal of Aid Western Missouri with its Adopt-a-Neighborhood program to provide targeted assistance to neighborhoods, zip codes and even schools to provide free legal services and implement other best practices.”

Reed: Yes.

Klein: “I work at 63rd and Prospect in the inner city as the branch manager for Bank of America and I hear of truly terrible problems that tenants face. So yes, I think we have to do significantly more to protect our citizen renters. One of the biggest problems we will focus on is absentee landlords.”

Chastain: Did not respond.

What, if anything, should be done to support neighborhoods where long-time residents or community identity may be at risk because people with more money have moved in?

Taylor: “Included in my East Side Revitalization Plan is a component that directs the City Manager to work with the County Executive to put in place an anti-gentrification mechanism. If we could freeze property taxes that would assist with gentrification issues.”

Canady: “Freezing taxes, minor home repair grants and homeownership opportunities with down payment assistance for long-time renters.”

Lucas: “The first step for the City is to avoid policies that encourage demolishing communities. Broad-scale demolition is not a housing policy and accelerates displacement of long-time community residents. Minor home repair program funding should be expanded—this is part of the Housing Trust Fund proposal—to include moderate and major home repair, so that repairs for those with fixed income or those with low incomes [are able to] remain in their community. The City also can use some of its incentive tools, like tax increment financing, to create renewal areas in neighborhoods with a high number of vacancies and to allow neighborhood associations to act as master developers for an area, capturing the increment and using it back in the neighborhood. This model is proposed currently in the Lykins Neighborhood and could be used throughout the City. “

Miller: “Long-term investments by the City in previously blighted areas have made parts of our City more attractive to individuals of greater financial means. As demand for housing increases so do real estate prices; and as real estate prices increase the City increases the assessed value of properties resulting in higher taxes. We can see this in parts of our Westside, Beacon Hill, the Troost corridor and others. A tax abatement policy freezing the valuation of the property of long-term residents may provide an easy and relatively simple way to protect this vulnerable population.”

Wagner: “A discussion with all taxing jurisdictions is necessary to find a balance to allow for long term residents to not be priced out of the neighborhoods they have stabilized. Our multiple jurisdiction system makes it difficult. The reality is that in comparison to school districts and the counties, the City has a lower stake in the property tax conversation.”

Glynn: “As Mayor, I will work with the Council and County governments to identify neighborhoods where we should freeze the property taxes of long-time senior citizen residents so high property taxes don’t force them to leave the neighborhoods they helped build.”

Lee: Did not respond.

Justus: “We must strike a balance between the interests of long-time residents and new residents who hope to invest in their new community. For long-time residents who see their property taxes increase exponentially as new development increases property values, we should work with our state and county partners to implement property tax relief that phases in the new costs over time rather than all at once. We can also provide support by working with neighborhood associations, non-profit organizations and faith-based institutions to ensure equitable housing policies, application of city services and assistance to low-and-fixed-income neighbors who need help repairing and remaining in their homes.”

Reed: “Finding ways to secure state NORC [Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities] dollars to increase supportive programs (health and wellness, education cultural workshops, dining opportunities, etc.) in areas where there is a concentration of retired residents is needed. We also should focus on providing reliable and safe transportation options for seniors, and consider setting cap on property taxes so that people can age in place and not feel pushed out.”

Klein: “Please see my comments on the habitat approach. Interestingly, there are a great variety of non-profits using similar models that can help revitalize our neighborhoods without causing the kind of urban gentrification you are referencing.”

Chastain: Did not respond.

Do you support Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner’s proposal to raise property taxes for preservation and construction of affordable housing?

Taylor: No. “I applaud Wagner for trying to do something on this issue but I do not agree that we should raise everybody’s taxes to address this.”

Canady: No.

Lucas: No.

Miller: No. “I would prefer to avoid raising taxes further and look to other alternatives. “

Glynn: No. “We need to focus on delivering timely basic city services for the taxes citizens are already paying. Then we can focus on attracting the external, private investment needed to address our housing shortage.”

Lee: Did not respond.

Justus: “While I support the policy goals of the proposal, I do not believe the case has been made that this is the best way to fund our city’s goals of preservation and construction of affordable housing.”

Reed: Yes. “But it’s not enough. It will help, but so much more needs to be done.”

Klein: No. “This plan, not unlike the mayors Pre-K, is a pool of money approach or, if you will, slush fund. This approach invariably creates significant problems of waste and misuse.”

Chastain: Did not respond.

If not, then how would you fund the preservation/construction of affordable units?

Taylor: “I have proposed a $10 million home repair fund in my East Side Revitalization plan that would help improve existing affordable housing stock. The City Manager currently has commitments from local banks to start the fund which we will be announcing soon. Additionally, I proposed redirecting all TIF surpluses the city receives into an affordable housing fund.”

Canady: “I support using the 3/8-cent economic development tax to establish a $30 million annual Housing Trust Fund and let the school districts work on property tax increases for mill levy for pre-K.”

Lucas: “I believe Housing Trust Fund monies can be found by the City better leveraging HUD community development block grant (CDBG) funds (in excess of $8 million per year) and working with the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax Board (producing around $10 million per year). I believe Kansas Citians are heavily taxed at this time and would not support a tax increase in this area.”

Miller: “Through public/private partnerships as outlined above.”

Glynn: “I would use my experience of working with private, public and non-profit developers of affordable housing across the United States. There is a large network of socially-motivated and profit-motivated investors that fund affordable housing. I would bring the network I have built through my career in business to Kansas City to partner with City Hall to bring adequate capital and innovative approaches to the table.

Lee: Did not respond.

Justus : I support tying certain incentives or routine property transactions to a requirement that either results in the construction of more affordable units, or requires a payment to the Housing Trust Fund in lieu of construction. I will also continue to push our state and federal legislative delegations to protect and award existing Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), Historic Preservation Tax Credits and other programs that incentivize the rehabilitation of existing housing stock and the construction of a variety of other housing options.

Klein: “We have grown way too dependent upon subsidies and handouts to accomplish the goals we need to here in Kansas City. I’m okay with incentives and we will use them in Kansas City but if you don’t fix the core problems of crime and education, these incentives will, in the end, not create the desired outcome.”

Chastain: Did not respond.

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