The inter-election slump and progress on housing policy

By Samuel Ast

There comes a time when election season takes over while government keeps moving. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and elections are in the periphery while ideas are up front.

Roughly one week after the municipal primary election on April 2, members of the Kansas City Council’s Housing Committee advanced an inclusionary zoning ordinance, delayed making a specific choice on potential funding sources for the proposed housing trust fund, and absorbed a presentation from the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department about projects that are either currently in the works or under consideration.

The inclusionary zoning ordinance that was approved by the full council after it was advanced out of committee on April 10 amends Chapter 88 of the city’s municipal code. The measure, collaboratively concocted in an effort between the Planning Commission and the Housing Committee,  aims to ease zoning restrictions (in this case, parking requirements) for multi-family residential housing developers who commit to selling a portion of their total units–20 percent to be exact–at affordable rates if they build near transit corridors.

Committee Chair, and mayoral candidate, Quinton Lucas thanked the City Planning and Development Department for their work in helping to “tighten up the language” of the bill, before queuing it up for a vote in a rusty, procedural fashion. It had been over a month since their last meeting, and Lucas had been busy sprinting through the finish line of the election, coming in at second-place alongside his colleague, Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who came in first out of a field of eleven candidates. The two will have the opportunity to face off again on June 18, when the general election is held.

What can be expected between now and then is nothing short of stagnation. As lofty, and desperately needed, policy goals are juxtaposed against a progressive election between two candidates who, as mayor, will have to confront housing matters regardless of who receives a plurality of votes. All that can be done now is preparation.

Kansas City’s 2018 housing policy, the first of its kind, outlines a five-year plan to construct 5,000 new homes, at a total investment of $75 million, by leveraging both public and private sector investments. Specific funding mechanisms and particular projects have been identified but not completely nailed down quite yet.

Scott Wagner has suggested using a property tax increase to raise the funds necessary to finance a significant portion of the goals stated in the 2018 housing policy.

A property tax increase of the magnitude that Wagner has proposed is estimated to bring in around $20 million in four years, leaving more than $24 million worth of housing investments unaccounted for in terms of a pay-for, if enacted. The uncertainty that is looming over city hall regarding how these exciting and bold policy priorities will be funded will likely remain until after a new mayor is seated, when the city will presumably gain more definitive insight into how these issues might progress moving forward at the hands of a new council under new leadership.

Recently, John Wood—Director of Neighborhood and Housing Services— let slip that the city was close to announcing a joint effort with three local banks to contribute roughly $1 million each to help fund various projects outlined in the policy.

The housing committee generally meets on Wednesday’s at City Hall, though minutes of their meetings can be found online.

One Reply to “The inter-election slump and progress on housing policy”

  1. I’ve tried to follow this as well as anyone, however, it appears that the conclusion that should be drawn regarding the election and everything being in a kind of “housing” limbo (?) as Sam has explained means that the next progressive step should be to change the time-frame between the primary and the general election. Maybe the time-frame should be reduced from two months to one month, maybe even less. [I know that Sam is dealing strictly with housing as possibly assigned by the editor and or publisher, but what about the following issues that are also impacted by a two-month lame duck time frame, not just housing: budget and fiscal year, appropriations to all the city departments, contract renewals (union contracts, contracts of all sorts including the department heads and City Manager–who for some unknown reason has yet another year left on his contract!?) By now, the elections would be over, the mayor in full City Council would have already met in open session and would have planned an orientation or even a retreat together as a group.
    Tthe city charter can easily be changed with a vote of the public when it sees a logical planning reason for doing so.. not just ersatz politicking spread out for 2 months… Or reducing the timeframe down to just 2 weeks! It isn’t just housing and ‘signals’ to developers, etc. It’s all of the city government.

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