Voter voices: Kansas City has a shortage of affordable housing
It’s been more than seven months since Kansas City introduced its first-ever long-range housing plan, one with an emphasis on improving affordability.
Since then, the City Council has pushed several elements of the plan into law, including protections for victims of domestic violence and relaxed parking requirements for apartment developers who include affordable units in their buildings. Homeowners rehabilitating newly acquired properties now get a break from code enforcement.
Yet, as affordable housing has become a signature issue in the 2019 mayoral race, two of the most potentially consequential measures remain in legislative limbo. Both are sponsored by Councilman Quinton Lucas, chair of the council’s housing committee and a finalist, along with Councilwoman Jolie Justus, in the June 18 mayoral runoff.
One is a resolution committing the city to building 5,000 new affordable homes and apartments by December 2023. Where the city will find $75 million for a trust fund to underwrite that increase in housing stock remains unclear.
The other piece of legislation would require multifamily developers who receive tax incentives to set aside 15 percent of their units for residents who make 70 percent of the area median income or less, which yields rents of less than $850 per month.
Lucas, 3rd District at-large, said last fall there was ample time to pass affordable housing proposals before the mayoral election. But a source of money for the housing trust has yet to be identified. The 15 percent set aside has been held on the docket, at Lucas’ request, since early February.
In the meantime, Lucas has been campaigning on his affordable housing work.
“I’m not talking about what I am doing in two years or what I did five years ago,” Lucas said in a KCTV5 mayoral forum Monday. “What I have done on the council and what’s before us now — a $75 million fund to support housing rehab to get people more jobs, particularly in the inner city of Kansas City, to get people more access to go from rental to home ownership.”
Lucas said Thursday the set-aside ordinance needed to be amended to exempt smaller developments, like duplexes and fourplexes. But that’s been the case for at least a month.
Filling the nearly-empty housing trust fund has also proven challenging, though Lucas touted its creation.
“By the time we were really having hearings in earnest about it in the fall, really, a lot of budget priorities are already nailed down,” Lucas said.
Council members, he said, weren’t able to pursue a sales tax to fund affordable housing because Mayor Sly James’ pre-K proposal was on the April ballot. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner last year introduced an ordinance to raise property taxes to fund affordable housing, but that has yet to get a committee vote.
“So the charge I put to staff — and I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by the responses so far, but that’s life — was to say where can you identify sources?” Lucas said. “And I think their answer largely, once they finally got back to us, maybe a month ago, was, well, taxes...but that was about all they said.”
He added he’d like to see more creative approaches to funding the policy. He wants to use a combination of federal funds the city already gets and allocates to community projects through the Community Development Block Grant and proceeds from the Central City Economic Development Sales tax.
Lucas has shepherded difficult proposals before. His 2016 ordinance that capped the level of incentives available to developers was also held up. It was introduced in May of that year and eventually won approval that October.
Even as council members promise solutions on affordable housing, the real estate industry still contributes substantially to their campaigns, though Lucas said he has never made policy decisions based on donors. He noted that other council members and former mayoral candidates who have taken a stand on incentives have still gotten development cash.
Lucas said his record is what’s important.
“The city has never had an affordable housing number until I introduced an ordinance last year to do it,” Lucas said. “This city never had an incentive cap until I introduced it in 2016. Those are real things that pissed off a lot of developers.”