Can the Kansas City Council pull off a Christmas miracle and crack down on Airbnbs?
In past Decembers, City Council has approved a tenant's bill of rights, right to counsel for residents facing eviction and other major legislation. This year, officials are hoping to pass policies to regulate short-term rentals and support small businesses
With just a few Kansas City Council meetings left before the end of the year, Mayor Quinton Lucas and council members are trying to pass a few more key pieces of legislation ahead of annual budget discussions and elections in 2023.
Council members want to pass legislation on small business support, short-term rentals and housing in the next month. December has proven productive for past city councils — members approved a universal right to counsel for residents facing eviction last year, and a tenants’ bill of rights in 2019.
Final 2022 priorities include rental enforcement and housing, small businesses, staffing
Before the year ends, 4th District Councilman Eric Bunch hopes to pass legislation amending Kansas City’s laws around short-term rentals. Residents have been growing frustrated with the explosion of Airbnbs in their neighborhoods, which has caused worsening quality of life issues, from noise to trash.
Many have been calling on the city to strengthen its enforcement against unruly and unregulated short-term rentals.
“It's probably one of the most frequently cited issues and things that are communications that are coming from constituents into my office,” Bunch said.
5th District Ryana Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said she plans to introduce legislation soon that will direct American Rescue Plan Act dollars to small businesses.
“We know that our small businesses really are still feeling the unfortunate impact of the pandemic,” Parks-Shaw said. “It's been a priority of mine to work with our biz care office to … create the infrastructure so that we can make money available and affordable to our small businesses.”
As the city prepares the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget, Bunch said it will be important to ensure city departments are adequately staffed up.
“We can put as much money into different departments and programs as we want, but it doesn't matter unless we actually have the staff,” he said. “I think we need to be looking at ways to use our budget to attract and retain people to work for the city.”
Already this year, City Council has prioritized climate change, traffic safety and housing.
In August, the City Council passed the Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan, with the goal of making Kansas City carbon neutral by 2040.
It also approved updating the city’s building codes to align with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code, which the federal government cites as the national model for energy-efficient construction of residential buildings.
It’s considered 9.3% more energy efficient than the previous 2018 code, according to the Department of Energy. Adopting the 2021 conservation code will guide future construction in Kansas City to create more energy efficient building stock.
6th-District-at-Large Councilwoman Andrea Bough championed that ordinance.
“I think that was a big step in putting a plan into action,” she said.
Bunch said Kansas City’s climate plan is one of the most progressive of any major U.S. city.
“I think that we did everyone a favor by requiring just more energy efficiency to be built into our new construction,” he said. “It's not just passing a climate plan. It's actually putting action to those words.”
This year also saw City Council respond to rising rents and a less than friendly housing market with action on housing and development.
The city’s new Housing Trust Fund made its first round of funding allocations, dividing $8 million among 14 affordable housing projects. The projects will cover nearly 500 units, with a focus on the preservation of affordable housing, construction of rental housing and support for homeownership.
In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a $50 million bond for the Housing Trust Fund.
City Council passed a related resolution allocating that money to projects that support “deeply affordable housing” — meaning they are affordable to households making 30% or or less of the area median family income.
Councilwoman Parks-Shaw said the voter support for the bond question affirmed Council’s housing priorities.
“The fact that the voters supported putting $50 million into the housing trust fund to create affordable housing, to me, says we're all on one accord,” she said.
City Council passed a plan called Zero KC that aims to end homelessness in five years. The plan calls for increased collaboration between the city and local organizations and more affordable housing stock for cost-burdened residents.
“I think we as a council really worked to help our residents stay housed,” Parks-Shaw said.
In August, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas unveiled a package of housing-related ordinances meant to incentivize development and meet the city’s goal of 10,000 affordable housing units by 2027.
But those ordinances came with sharp pushback from housing advocates.
Citywide tenant union KC Tenants opposed an ordinance amending the city’s affordable housing set-aside policy and changing the city’s definition of affordable housing, which required developers seeking tax incentives for residential development to make 20% of their units affordable for those making 60% or below of the median family income.
That breaks down to nearly $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment. Opponents of the ordinance said that was still out of reach for the city’s poor, working-class tenants.
City Council also executed contracts and dedicated funding to get the Right to Counsel program up and running, which provides free legal representation to any Kansas City tenant in eviction court. As of September, 372 eviction cases in Jackson County Circuit Court were referred to the program, with most resulting in favorable outcomes for the tenant.
“In the past, folks didn't have any sort of recourse, no legal counsel, in their eviction proceedings,” Bunch said. “I think our effort, with the help of community advocates, really have made a big improvement in a person's outlook in their housing situation. We know that preventing evictions is the first step in preventing people from losing shelter.”
This year, City Council put money and policy changes toward pedestrian safety and making the roads safer for all users — not just drivers.
During budget discussions at the start of the year, City Council allocated nearly $40 million to resurface 300 lane miles of streets throughout the city.
City Council formally adopted the Vision Zero plan, which has a goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. The council also allocated some funding toward traffic calming projects and intersection improvements in some of the city’s high traffic, high fatality areas.
Bunch said increasing the street resurfacing budget has impacted residents’ quality of life by keeping streets in better condition. He’s also proud that City Council prioritized fixing sidewalks this year.
“Traffic safety is one of the most critical needs right now, and our Vision Zero plan is being implemented because we've tripled our street resurfacing budget,” Bunch said. “It's allowed us to do things like the road diet on 31st Street, making that street safer and more economically viable for those businesses.”
Councilwoman Bough said the past year reflects the council’s focus on the issues most impacting residents: from housing to transportation to climate change.
“I think there has been a shift, to some extent, to individuals and the struggles that they face,” she said. “But I think that a lot of us came into this term wanting to focus on that anyway — the housing issue, the environmental issues, the transportation issues — that impact individuals and their day to day lives.”