While Kansas City officials argued about which street to name for Martin Luther King, Jr. — and didn’t even get that done — young professionals already priced out of the downtown area were moving in east of Troost and gentrifying neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and Squier Park.
The East Side badly needs economic development, so what’s wrong with that?
Only that without any serious and legally binding housing policy, Kansas City is allowing its affordable housing crisis to deepen.
For many years, officials have been handing out incentives to the developers, Realtors and architects who fund their campaigns. Unfortunately, they’ve asked for nothing or very little in the way of low- or middle-income housing in return.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
That’s got to change. With the influx of those who can afford to pay more, low-income residents are already being displaced. Many have nowhere to go, and we know how seriously evictions can damage families and the educational outcomes of children.
Yet, a report in The Star found that nearly all of the Troost corridor’s hundreds of new apartments will be rented at market rate.
That’s particularly outrageous because yes, developers including MAC Properties, Milhaus and UC-B got tax abatements and other sweeteners in return for investing in blighted neighborhoods. Why are we subsidizing companies to push out those who’ve spent their lives there?
That’s what we’re doing when so many of the units under construction are far beyond the means of those making below the city’s median household income of $51,235.
The lack of affordable housing is a serious problem across the country, of course. In much of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, there is almost no middle class any more, but only the rich and the homeless.
Those and virtually all other major cities are trying to grow their affordable housing stock by requiring residential developers to build a certain percentage of units that cost no more than 30 percent of a family’s gross income.
Kansas City doesn’t do that, and the housing market here is changing quickly.
Take the soon-to-open Wonder Lofts at 30th Street, where two-bedroom apartments in a rehabbed industrial bakery start at $1,100 a month. As The Star reported, a single parent with two children would have to earn more than twice what the Missouri minimum wage will be in 2023, after the recent passage of Proposition B, to be able to rent there at all.
We only have to look to the many cities that have already become islands for the advantaged to see where this is going. We still have a chance to get this right, but before we turn Troost into the next hipster-friendly Crossroads, let’s put some ordinances in place that protect long-time residents.
Belatedly, the city does have a draft of a plan that’s under discussion.
But that’s what next year’s mayoral race must focus on. Already, those candidates doing so include City Councilman Quinton Lucas, who is chairman of the housing committee, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner and Phil Glynn, whose company develops housing on Native American reservations.
Every candidate must explain in detail how he or she plans to stop the Denverization that’s already happening. Otherwise, we’ll have more and more mountain-view prices, Rockies not included.