Editorials

KC Council shouldn’t subsidize Three Light apartments without affordable housing plan

By The Kansas City Star Editorial Board

The Kansas City Council is considering changes to the city’s minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MBE/WBE) program, which requires contractors working for the city to hire smaller women- or minority-owned firms as subcontractors.
The Kansas City Council is considering changes to the city’s minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MBE/WBE) program, which requires contractors working for the city to hire smaller women- or minority-owned firms as subcontractors. File photo

The Kansas City Council is headed toward a collision over public subsidies for luxury apartments downtown.

Council members should take their time before reaching a decision. The city needs to get this right.

The controversy surrounds a proposal by The Cordish Companies to build a third apartment complex — Three Light — at Truman Road and Main Street. Cordish has asked the city to spend $17.5 million for a parking garage for Three Light, a 300-unit, $130 million development.

Some council members have resisted the plan. They’re troubled by the fact that Cordish has failed to offer housing units at affordable rates in any of its new apartments. They also think the city should limit public subsidies for relatively wealthy renters downtown.

On Monday, the dissenters won committee approval of a resolution ordering city staff to negotiate with Cordish over these and other issues before any deal for Three Light is signed.

That idea rankles Cordish supporters on the council. They want the city to proceed with the subsidies, with vague promises to create affordable housing somewhere. An ordinance to award the $17.5 million passed a different committee Wednesday, although without a recommendation for the full council.

Thus the collision. Both proposals are scheduled for a council vote March 22. Since they are directly contradictory, only one can survive.

We are not against the Three Light project. But the city and Cordish could do more to provide moderate-income housing downtown while reducing the public subsidy for Three Light.

That makes the next two weeks critical. City Manager Troy Schulte and his staff, along with council members, should use the time to reach a new agreement with Cordish for Three Light and similar projects in the future.

If Cordish wants subsidies for Three Light and doesn’t want truly affordable apartments as part of the mix there, it must firmly commit to affordable units somewhere else. The nearby Midland Office Building is a possible site.

The promise must be real, with specific start dates and completion dates in the near future — not 20 years from now.

There is also talk of collecting extra taxes in the area to help reduce the cost of the city’s subsidy. That’s a good idea. And the city may want to renegotiate its long-term agreement with Cordish to provide additional flexibility as new buildings are added to the mix.

All parties should be able to reach such an agreement by March 22 if they negotiate in good faith. If finalizing a better deal takes a few weeks longer, however, the council should delay its vote.

Cordish representatives have suggested any significant delay imperils Three Light. That shouldn’t be the case. The proposal has been under discussion for weeks; another few days should not make a difference.

Kansas City’s relationship with Cordish has largely benefited both parties, albeit at a high cost to taxpayers. Thousands will crowd into the Power & Light District this week, which helps the city and the company. One Light and Two Light are welcome additions to the skyline.

But taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize luxury housing indefinitely without some commitment to help renters of more modest means. This deal is the chance to make that happen, and Kansas City should seize it.

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