Kansas City used to be considered an affordable place to live.
Now that some downtown rents are reaching $1,500 a month for a single unit, that’s no longer true, and city leaders are wrangling with how to change that.
On Wednesday, the city’s housing committee passed an ordinance that would require developers who get tax breaks to rent 15 percent of their apartments for around $830 a month. That figure is still out of reach for much of the city’s low-income population — but until May, developers could claim that rents north of $1,600 a month were affordable.
“We really want to make sure that downtown … stays affordable and isn’t just a playground of people that are making a lot of money,” councilman Quinton Lucas said.
Currently, developers who get incentives from the city must have 10 percent of the units renting for $1,100 a month.
Although the measure passed unanimously, councilmembers debated for two hours before settling on the final terms.
The change originally called for setting “affordable” rents at around $950 a month. That’s based on what is considered affordable for people making $47,500, which is 80 percent of Kansas City’s median income. But national guidelines say that a household should not spend more than 30 percent of income on housing.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who like Lucas is running for mayor, argued the greatest need is for rents far below that figure, closer to $625 a month.
“You’re not delivering anything to the people that need it,” Canady said.
But several councilmembers argued that a jump from $1,100 a month to $625 was too dramatic. Lucas and fellow councilman Scott Wagner, another mayoral candidate, said they’re not trying to solve the city’s affordable housing shortage with a single ordinance.
“What we’re trying to do is … get the city out of the business of subsidizing completely luxury and exclusively luxury housing projects,” Lucas said.
Eventually, the committee compromised, lowering the threshold of affordability to someone making 70 percent of the city’s median income, which breaks down to $830 a month.
The measure also ensures that those apartments are actually rented by people who earn around $33,000 a year or less. Should a developer decide not to include the affordable units, they would be required to make payments to the city’s housing trust fund.
The measure is part of a suite of ordinances sponsored by Lucas and Wagner. Some of the previous ordinances include the creation of a $75 million housing trust fund to help build or rehabilitate affordable homes, establishing fair housing protections for victims of domestic violence and waiving certain fines for redevelopers who acquire homes that are out-of-code.
The full council will vote on the affordable housing set-aside next week.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.