Kansas City’s Affordable Housing Crisis Needs Solutions Now

OPINION AND COMMENT

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Mayor Quinton Lucas’ plan could mean those in crisis would now have to wait five years for construction to even begin.

Associated Press file photo

No wonder people who have struggled to find affordable housing in Kansas City don’t believe city leaders are making it a priority for low-income families, including the working poor who teach our kids, work in our stores or waiting for us in restaurants. .

Mayor Quinton Lucas recently unveiled a proposal to relax affordable housing construction requirements for private developers who receive tax breaks for their projects. The proposal will eliminate requirements that new projects include housing for very low-income residents, instead allowing developers to focus on residents who can afford rents closer to market value.

To address the needs of these left-behind residents, the mayor’s plan relies on a $50 million bond that will add money to the city’s housing trust fund over several years — if the voters approve of it.

We strongly favor a range of housing options for families that are priced out of the market, and those options must include families and others who can afford rents closer to market rate, the group targeted by the mayor’s proposal. But the thousands of Kansas City residents who need help the most — those no longer included in the city’s Affordable Housing Tax Credit program — risk being left behind entirely. It also endangers the workforce.

In effect, the mayor is leaving it up to voters to decide whether they will provide money to the housing trust fund, rather than requiring developers to reserve housing for very low-income workers. Making it even harder: The plan was rushed through the city council without adequate public debate or full release of details.

Lucas told the Editorial Board this month that the pace was partly dictated by the schedule. The vote takes place in November, but council must decide by Aug. 30 whether it wants the bond proposal on the ballot — which will also include a second question authorizing $125 million in municipal borrowing for the city. improvement of infrastructure.

He’s right about the tight timing, but he could have saved more time if he hadn’t waited so close to the deadline to come up with the changes.

That’s part of why low-income housing advocates have been outraged.

Trust fund money could take 5 years

Even if the money is approved, the city has yet to specify how it will be used and how quickly the money will be borrowed. The terms of the bond election only state that the funds will be drawn over five years.

This corresponds to what remains a rough outline of the city’s plan for affordable housing in general. It has set a target of 10,000 affordable homes by 2027 and pledged funds already committed in the trust fund to build around 500 homes a year over the next five years, with 14 projects approved this summer. Federal COVID-19 relief funds are earmarked to build 4,000 units. That leaves 2,000 units dependent on the $50 million bond that voters will be asked to approve, with the balance dependent on private fundraising.

But the rate at which this money will be spent and the types of housing are not yet defined. People facing a housing crisis need a roof over their heads now. Asking them to wait maybe five years before the start of construction prolongs the difficulties.

This difficulty affects residents up and down the income scale. Even workers earning close to $50,000 a year can struggle to find suitable housing for their families.

“At least 30 jobs in the city aren’t paying enough to pay $1,200 rent,” – the rate set for a one-bedroom apartment – said Wilson Vance of KC Tenants, who has battled the city for decades. years for a lack of affordable housing.

That’s why so many people recently joined housing advocates at City Hall to protest the mayor’s plan.

Lucas insists the changes will mean more housing built for families with incomes ranging from around $50,000 to $80,000. We agree that these families also need more affordable housing options.

And it’s also true that the current plan, which requires developers seeking tax credits to make 10% of their units affordable to those earning as little as around $25,000 a year, hasn’t been taken within the last 18 months.

It’s important to remember that these tax credits were designed to require developers to build a mix of homes so that at least 20% of them offer affordable rents for low-income residents. This is essential, especially in a city where almost half of the inhabitants are tenants.

But relying on voters to push through the obligation is a risky strategy.

No plan to solve Kansas City’s housing problem is good if it leaves out low-income, poor, and extremely poor families. This is where the biggest affordable housing shortage in the city is.

The projects already on the book prove that investments can help the city out of the housing crisis among the poorest. But reaching the goal of 10,000 new units will require a sustained effort across a wide range of programs.

Hoping that voters will approve a $50 million bond fund is not an accommodation strategy. What is needed is a steady source of funding that will intensify and sustain efforts to provide more affordable housing for even the poorest working people in Kansas City.

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