Residential Inclusionary Zoning moves forward along with renter protections
Other policies remain to be considered at a later date.
By Samuel Ast
Those pushing for affordable housing solutions in Kansas City have reason to feel positive given that meaningful legislation addressing the issue is moving forward, albeit very slowly, out of the Housing Committee, and to the full Council at City Hall.
The two ordinances that cleared the first hurdle–one that directs the City Manager to find funding for a study that would evaluate the establishment of residential inclusionary zoning requirements, and another that would protect renters that are domestic violence survivors from discrimination by landlords–will likely come before the full council for a vote during the legislative session next Thursday.
These two ordinances represent the first substantive action taken by the Council in 2019 to address housing issues in Kansas City.
A portion of the rent protection measure originally included language that barred landlords from refusing to rent to tenants based on their source of income, though that provision was struck from the bill that was ultimately passed out of committee on Wednesday due to pushback from some committee members in addition to various groups representing rental property owners in the city.
During public testimony at Wednesday’s committee hearing, realtor and investor Jennifer Justice spoke to some of the concerns individuals such as herself face when deciding whether or not investing in the Kansas City housing market is in their best interest financially. She said she was worried that a policy that bars consideration of a renter’s source of income– in this case, Section 8 housing vouchers– when leases are signed will “exacerbate problems” down the line, possibly leading to more evictions and increased costs that would ultimately be shouldered by landlords.
Another group representing renters, known as Landlords Inc., said that source of income policies are “problematic”, and could lead to an exodus of renters, thus leaving less available units for prospective tenants–an effect that the Housing Committee would like to avoid. “We’re not a captive audience,” the group said.
One of the ordinances held for a later date is an amendment to the Zoning and Development Code that would ease various density restrictions for residential properties that provide affordable housing units and are located near high-frequency transit corridors, with the goal of creating more affordable housing development. This would essentially lessen the regulations and cost burdens for property owners and developers who wish to enter Kansas City’s real estate market, with the stipulation that a certain amount of the total units were deemed affordable.
The definition of “affordable” is a critical component of the city’s overall housing policy, and it still remains in question. A consensus has emerged that affordable means accessible for those with incomes at or below 80 percent of the median income for the area. Some, including the Kansas City Public School District, would like to see a policy that takes into consideration that median income varies considerably from place to place in areas throughout Kansas City. It is the school district’s contention that when city tax dollars are used to incentivize new housing development, area-specific definitions of affordability should be taken into account.
All of the pending legislation belongs in a larger category of policies that deal with the fundamental question of how best to balance the need to provide increased access to affordable housing while not driving developers and investors away from the Kansas City area real estate market.
Members of the Housing Committee are still waiting for a report, originally slated to arrive earlier in January, from City Manager Troy Schulte regarding possible sources of funding for a $75 million Housing Trust Fund that could help finance home repairs in distressed neighborhoods, as well as provide mortgage assistance to those who cannot afford it.
“We have not completed the analysis necessary to recommend to the City Council a means of funding a Housing Trust Fund,” said Schulte. “At this point, all current revenues and potential new revenues remain for further discussion.”
Policies surrounding affordable housing will stay in the headlines as the April 2019 municipal election nears.