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The First 'Big Deal' In Solving Kansas City's Affordable Housing Problem? A Trust Fund

Kevin Collison
KCUR 89.3
A Kansas City Council committee passed a handful of measures aimed at increasing the city's affordable housing stock.

Updated 7 p.m. Dec. 20 to reflect the city council’s vote — The full Kansas City Council approved four proposals Thursday to address the lack of affordable housing in the city.

One establishes a housing trust fund, while another directs the city manager to identify $75 million to capitalize that fund. Two additional measures would streamline the permitting process for construction of new homes and waive fines for code violations for people who want to rehabilitate a property that is out of compliance.

Original post from Dec. 19:

A Kansas City council committee moved ahead on Wednesday with several measures aimed at solving Kansas City’s affordable housing problem.

A study commissioned a year ago by the city council shows that affordable housing options are scarcefor the city’s lowest-income residents and that rents across the city have been on the rise.

The housing committee is considering a suite of ordinances to increase the affordable housing stock and encourage real estate developers to include more affordable apartments in their projects.

One measure advanced by the housing committee establishes a $75 million Kansas City Housing Trust Fund to encourage the construction or rehabilitation of rental housing for low-income residents. But so far, no specific source of money has been identified. If the full city council approves it, City Manager Troy Schulte will have to report back in 20 days with potential sources.

“The creation of a housing trust fund for Kansas City is a very big deal,” said councilman Quinton Lucas, who sponsored the ordinance.

Lucas, who is running for mayor in 2019, says the fund would have a dedicated staff and concrete plans for its use.

“It actually is really trying to create something that, frankly, Kansas City has been behind on for a number of years,” Lucas said.

Another measure originally called for capitalizing that fund with $15 million over five years, but councilwoman Alissia Canady, another mayoral candidate, questioned why they wouldn’t seek the $75 million right away. She said it would demonstrate the council’s commitment to housing.

She referenced a conversation that happened earlier Wednesday, about the city’s obligation to fund a parking garage for a planned office tower downtown.

“We’re funding housing for cars and not people,” Canady said.

While Lucas was confident that the $75 million can be generated without raising taxes, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner was not as optimistic. Wagner is also running for mayor.

He says the city’s budget is already stretched too thin and City Manager Troy Schulte has been asked to identify funding for several different initiatives. Wagner has proposed a property tax increase to go toward affordable housing.

“The choices are very limited. I don’t see how you can reach a substantial amount of money without some sort of tax question coming forward,” Wagner said.

A plan to streamline the permitting process for new housing also passed unanimously.

The committee also passed a measure that would waive fines for code violations for people who want to rehabilitate a property that is out of compliance. It would give them two months to bring the home up to code before incurring fees. 

All of the above proposals will be up for a vote by the full city council on Thursday.

Another proposal would alter the scorecard for projects seeking tax breaks from the city, so that projects with more affordable housing units would get a higher score. The scale would also award more points to projects that include housing for the lowest-income categories. That measure will be before the full city council after the new year.

Another half-dozen proposals that address zoning, density requirements and projects receiving tax incentives will be discussed when the housing committee reconvenes in January. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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