Kansas City housing advocates disagree with new affordable housing policies proposed by Mayor Quinton Lucas

Changes in how Kansas City defines “affordable housing” has caused criticism of Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas from housing advocates, city council members, and tenants across the city.

Recently, MayorLucas announced a package of new legislation designed to encourage building more affordable housing in Kansas City. Under the structure of the current policy,  Lucas said the City has not received any proposals for new housing developments in a “year and a half.” 

On Aug. 18, the Kansas City Council approved, by a vote of 9 to 4, the Mayor’s-backed ordinance relaxing affordable housing requirements for developers. Council members Heather Hall, Brandon Ellington, Eric Bunch, and Andrea Bough voted no.

Here’s a breakdown of what the package looks like:

Relaxed “affordable” housing requirements

The new ordinance eases the percentage of affordable housing units developers must include  in new developments. In April 2019, the City Council required developers seeking incentives to set aside 10% of their units for households making 70% of the area’s median family income (MFI) and another 10% for “extremely low-income households” making 30% of the MFI.

The new policy has just one affordable housing mandate, requiring developers to set aside 20% of their housing units for households making 60% of the MFI — which comes out to rent of roughly $1,200 per month for a one-bedroom apartment for two people.

However, the new policy does not mandate developers set aside any units for households making 30% of the median income, leaving extremely low-income households out to dry.

A Problem: Calculating Median Income

Housing advocacy groups in Kansas City have called into question how the City calculates Median Family Income.  Federal guidelines for calculating MFI are set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Despite the guidelines, advocacy groups say Kansas City’s MFI is not accurate because the calculations are based on the incomes of residents of all 14 counties in the Kansas City Metropolitan Statistical Area. They say including suburban areas, such as Johnson County in the calculations, means the data does not truly reflect the majority of Kansas City renters.

At the Aug. 18 City Council meeting, members of KC Tenants decried the ordinance saying it favors developers and does not address the root causes of housing instability and the loss of potential options for low-income renters.

“We came out to let our voice be heard because this is not acceptable,” Jenay Manley, an organizer with the KC Tenants, said. Unfortunately, our representatives, the city council members on that committee, chose to ignore our voices.

KC Tenants surveyed Kansas City renters in an effort to show that the median income figures the city is using do not match the actual salaries of renters. 

According to 600 responses from tenants in the city, tenants reported spending an average of $1030.41 on monthly rent, while reportedly only earning $2500 a month.  Those numbers indicate those surveyed are spending over 56.2% of their monthly wages on rent. According to HUD, any household spending more than 30% of its total income on housing is cost burdened and any household spending more than 50% of its total income on housing is severely cost burdened. 

In the report KC Tenants states, “City Hall’s definition of “affordable” is rooted in an analysis of what is affordable for a developer to build, not what is affordable for a tenant to live. That definition is the basis for incentives and subsidies to developers. To address the growing pressure in Kansas City’s rental market, City Hall should redefine “affordable,” alongside a strategy to house the people.”

Bonds for the Housing Trust Fund

The set-aside ordinance is one component of a larger legislative package proposed by Mayor Lucas to increase the availability of affordable housing. The city will ask voters to approve two questions, on the Nov. 8 ballot.  One would authorize the City to issue $50 million in bonds to go to the city’s Housing Trust Fund for the creation of affordable housing and preservation projects.    Earlier this summer, Kansas City approved the use of $8.8 million from the Housing Trust fund to build or renovate nearly 500 new units of affordable housing.

The other would request to borrow $125 million for the renovation of the City’s recreation centers and swimming pools and for renovation at the City’s convention center.

Permitting accessory dwelling units (ADUs)

If approved, a new city ordinance would allow homeowners to use property space for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), such as a carriage home or backyard apartment. Residents expressed interest in increasing the availability of ADU’s according to a survey conducted by the city earlier this year.

Jacob Martin covered news that focuses on housing and equality issues in Kansas City. Prior to joining our team, he worked as a general assignments reporter with KCUR in Kansas City. A Louisville, Kentucky...

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