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Kansas City got $50 million for its Housing Trust Fund. How did it spend the money this year?

A woman walks down the street in Kansas City, Missouri, on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Orlin Wagner
Associated Press
Kansas City's Housing Trust Fund is meant to preserve and create more affordable housing for low-income residents.

A dozen projects have received $11 million in Housing Trust fund support, all of them dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing.

Kansas City has approved 12 housing projects, costing $11 million total, to be funded by its Housing Trust Fund this year — and city officials are poised to approve another $9 million in trust fund spending at the end of this month.

They run the gamut from affordable apartments to a community land trust to transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

The city launched the Housing Trust Fund in 2018 to help build and preserve affordable housing for low-income residents and families as rents are rising rapidly. But the city didn’t have any money to put into the fund until 2021, when it allocated $12.5 million in COVID relief money to jumpstart the program. In November 2021, the city council passed a policy outlining how the Housing Trust Fund would be used and the types of projects it would support.

But the $12.5 million infusion was not a sustainable funding source, nor was it enough to fulfill the Housing Trust Fund’s goals. The City Council put a $50 million bond measure on the November 2022 ballot to fund the program. The measure passed with 71% of the vote.

Dion Lewis, a division manager in the Housing and Community Development Department, said the vote helped the Housing Trust Fund “catch fire.”

“That kind of gave developers in the community that sense of, this is a real deal and let's take advantage of it and get these affordable homes on the market,” Lewis said.

The trust fund’s goal is to provide affordable housing to those with an income at or below 60% of the area median family income, as defined by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development. The 2023 area median family income for a family of four in the Kansas City metro is $104,600. Families at 60% of this level make about $62,760 annually. If the family only spent 30% of its income on mortgage or rent, they would pay no more than $1,569 per month.

Projects that receive Housing Trust Fund money must keep units affordable for at least 30 years.

Lewis said these affordability requirements are what sets the trust fund apart from the city’s alphabet soup of economic development and incentive agencies.

“We are really tying our money to the real, at-risk, at-need type of families for affordable housing,” Lewis said. “That is a huge deal because we have a lot of families that fall below that threshold.”

First, the Housing Trust Fund board reviews applications for affordability, the number of units created and how long those units will remain affordable.

Under the 2018 ordinance, the board prioritizes projects that serve very low and extremely low-income households and those that guarantee the units will remain affordable longer than the minimum 30 years.

The ordinance also stipulates how much support can go to different projects.

  • At least 20% of Housing Trust Fund money is available for projects that preserve affordable rental properties for households at or below 60% area median family income. 
  • At least 20% of funds are for the creation of affordable rental housing. 
  • At least 10% of funds are for projects that support transitional housing and permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.
  • At least 10% of funds are for programs that support homeownership for people making 60% of the area median family income.

What projects have gotten money so far?

This year’s 12 projects will create and preserve more than 300 affordable rental units.

They include construction of the Oak Park Townhomes on 38th Street and Prospect Avenue, which will offer 35 units to veterans and families. Twenty-three of these units will be affordable for families making less than 30% of the area median income, about $31,380 in annual income. The city awarded the developer a $300,000 loan.

Several projects that received Housing Trust Fund money provide services and shelter to unhoused people. Amethyst Place received a $500,000 grant to provide supportive housing for women and children.

The Northeast Community Land Trust received a $225,000 grant to support homeownership for low-income families. The project is the result of a partnership between local community nonprofit Jerusalem Farm and the Kansas City Community Land Trust.

Jordan Schiele, project director at Jerusalem Farm, said the group rehabs abandoned homes, then sells them for at least 20% below market rate. The purchasing family owns the house, but the land it sits on remains in the Kansas City Community Land Trust.

Schiele said this kind of “ground lease” preserves that affordability for 99 years.

“It takes away the house as a commodity, which it so often is in our economics,” he said. “As a healthy individual, everything is so tied to your housing and your environment that you live in.”

To qualify for a home within the land trust, a prospective buyer make at or below 60% of the area median income.

“In places like the Northeast, like in Pendleton Heights and some of the neighborhoods, housing prices have been rapidly increasing as development downtown's been happening and so forth,” Schiele said. “And so we wanted to try to build up the housing stock within the Northeast that will maintain its affordability.”

Jerusalem Farm applied for another $230,000 in Housing Trust Fund dollars to continue its land trust work. The Housing Trust Fund board chose Jerusalem Farm and nine projects for this next round of funding. Together, these projects would support 776 affordable housing units.

The city council will first discuss whether to approve Housing Trust Fund money for these projects on Nov. 29.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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