Kansas City landlords are overreacting to modest proposals on affordable housing

Kansas City landlord Stephen Summers angrily announced at a City Council committee meeting on affordable housing Wednesday that local officials are cracking down so hard on property owners like him that he’s “in the process of liquidating” the rental properties he owns here and “will no longer buy homes ... buy gasoline, eat in restaurants or spend any money at all in Kansas City.”

Over-the-top, yes. And completely out of sync with the modest and overdue proposals under consideration in a city where almost half of all residents are renters, and owners have long been only lightly regulated.

Yet a succession of landlords, or as they prefer to be called, housing providers, lodged complaints at the housing committee hearing, about “onerous inspection requirements” and misguided “do-good organizations.” They asked where the incentives were for doing the right thing, and, wondered aloud, while five City Council members listened, why landlords weren’t being listened to.

They continued to lament the already voter-approved new Healthy Homes ordinance. One owner told the committee that paying $20 a unit for basic health and safety inspections “hinders my process to grow because I now have to basically not only maintain this home beyond a standard that my own home be maintained, but I have to also make sure these tenants maintain the home while they’re there.”

Did we mention that the proposals under consideration are really basic?

That they’re generating such aggressive pushback suggests how weak tenants’ rights have been in Kansas City.

One of the supposedly onerous new proposals, for instance, would keep landlords from refusing to rent to someone who was evicted more than five years ago, or who was evicted but prevailed in court. But doesn’t that seem only fair, when an eviction for whatever reason can make housing all but impossible to get?

Kansas City is trying to make sure it doesn’t join the growing list of cities around the country that have become completely unaffordable for the non-rich. “The bottom line,” Neighborhood and Housing Services Director John Wood said, “is what do we want to be known for when we grow up?”

The main goals of the five-year plan laid out on Wednesday are to build or rehab 5,000 affordable homes or apartments by the end of 2023 and create a $75 million housing trust fund that would make rehab loans and grants available.

On Thursday, City Councilman Quinton Lucas, who chairs the housing committee, and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner intend to introduce several measures they hope to see passed by the end of the year.

One is a resolution that would ask the city manager to review how the permit process could be streamlined to encourage the construction of more affordable housing.

Another is a resolution asking for a study of inclusionary zoning, which means that you can only build if you construct a certain percentage of affordable units.

One ordinance they’re proposing would create a $15 million housing trust fund with city money.

Another would require developers who receive incentives from the city to rent at least 15 percent of their new units to those who earn up to 80 percent of the city’s median income, or about $39,000. That would mean a rent of about $960.

Other proposals would ease property code enforcement while an owner is rehabilitating a property and expand fair housing protections to ban discriminating against those with housing vouchers and tenants who have been victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.

None of these strike us as reason to refuse to work, eat or fill up the tank with gas in Kansas City.