Kansas City, Missouri City Council Votes on Affordable Housing, More

Bekah Swank

1/28/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas at a previous city council meeting

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council passed several resolutions and ordinances related to housing and houselessness during its regular meeting on Thursday, January 28. Per Kansas City, Missouri legislative proceedings, all new ordinances will go into effect eight days following passage.

Affordable Housing Policy

The council discussed Ordinance 201038, “Requiring that projects which are primarily residential in nature and are seeking economic incentives in the nature of the capture and redirection, abatement or exemption of taxes or other City financing contain a minimum number of affordable housing units.”

Councilwoman Andrea Bough, Vice Chair of the Neighborhood Planning & Development Committee, elaborated on the specific requirements: “Any multifamily housing development project of more than 10 units that seeks incentives would be required to set aside 10 percent of those units at 70 percent Area Median Income (AMI) and 10 percent at 30 percent AMI.”

This affordable housing measure is significant for low-to-moderate income families in Kansas City, Missouri because the development of affordable housing - defined as housing in which a household spends no more than 30% of their income on housing costs, including utilities - is typically not highly profitable for developers. For this and other reasons, there is a steep shortage of affordable housing throughout the country. As a stopgap measure, local, state, and federal governments try to provide incentives for developers to lower the price tag on new units they construct.

During the January 28 meeting, Mayor Quinton Lucas offered an amendment to the affordable housing ordinance, which among other things exempts projects that are receiving Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and projects involving historic buildings from the requirement. The amendment also states that projects that have already applied for incentives “aren’t subject to the ordinance if they received final written award within three years of the effective date.” The effective date was set by this amendment at April 8, 2021.

In speaking to the amendment, Lucas referred to “housing advocates” who have asked for the city to “have a stronger commitment to the provision of affordable housing.” He said these advocates supported ordinances in 2017 and 2018 relating to affordable housing but that those ordinances in some cases were inadequate. “It is time to commit for this city to progress on affordable housing,” Lucas said in closing his comments.

Permanent Housing for Houseless Population

The Council also passed a resolution that asks the Parks and Recreation Department to “assess their land” for a possible site to establish “permanent municipal housing for homeless.” The Department would report back in 90 days with their findings.

Although the dangers faced by people experiencing houselessness are ongoing, after the exposure-related deaths of two Kansas City citizens this winter, local groups have pointed to regular sweeps conducted by the city as a key component of the problem. The city has not responded to inquiries regarding whether sweeps they conducted could have been causes of these deaths.

Parks are among the places people without a place to stay tend to gather. Some have reasoned that people who need a space to set up camp should be able to camp in parks because others are not likely to be using the space, especially during the winter and at night.

The resolution for permanent housing for houseless people on city parklands was initiated by Council member Brandon Ellington, Vice Chair of the Special Committee on Housing Policy.

Task Force to Coordinate Services for Houseless Population

The Council also passed a resolution to convene a “Homelessness Task Force” to coordinate and improve services for houseless people. Council member Ellington cited the “need for better coordination” among the nearly two dozen agencies citywide that provide services for houseless people.

The Mayor will nominate the members of the proposed task force, with the following requirements:

  • Two City Council members

  • Parks and Recreation Department representatives

  • Police Department representatives

  • Neighborhood and Housing Services Department representatives

  • Health Department representatives

  • “Any other related document or external agency,” according to Ellington

The City Manager will also be asked to work with the task force. The task force is directed to convene its first meeting before February 12, 2021.

Vaccine Distribution Task Force

The Council also passed a resolution relating to vaccine distribution that would establish a task force to distribute the vaccine in partnership with the Health Department and other public health organizations. Missouri has been noted in the media in recent weeks for its failure to distribute vaccines quickly.

Other Topics

The Council also accepted a federal grant on behalf of Rose Brooks, which works to prevent domestic violence. Some debate ensued in the Council meeting as to whether the city approves pass-through funding and technical assistance to a wide enough variety of organizations; Council member Ellington emphasized the need for the city to provide such partnership to smaller grassroots organizations that don’t have the resources to apply for essential or capacity-building funding.

Other items passed during the January meeting included:

  • Extension of paid leave for city employees needing to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure or contraction

  • Extension for small business license renewal payments

  • Approval of contracts to perform aerial mapping to assist in planning city infrastructure projects

  • Acceptance and amendment of two grant awards relating to preparation for epidemics

  • Amendments to contracts with vendors engaged on development projects

  • Appropriation of funds (over $14M) to provide rental assistance to families impacted by COVID-19, as discussed in Legislative Session.

  • Authorization of the use of HOME and CDBG funds for mixed-income housing development

  • Authorization of funds for a blight study in the Santa Fe neighborhood

Previous to the council meeting, In the January Legislative Session included a presentation from John Wood, Director of the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. Wood provided detail about the $14M in new federal funding for rent and utility assistance, including:

  • 90% of the funding must be used for direct assistance to COVID-19 impacted families at or below 80% AMI.

  • “Rent or utility assistance” is defined as payment of rent or utility costs (including home energy costs, trash removal, and utilities covered by the landlord, but not including phone, internet, cable, or cell phone bills)

  • 10% of the funding will be eligible to cover administrative costs for the city in distributing the funding

  • The funding will mainly be applied through social service providers such as United Way of Greater Kansas City and Community Development Corporation (CDC) partners.

  • Households may receive up to 12 months of consecutive assistance dating back to March, 2020, and may be considered for up to three months of additional assistance depending on their circumstances.

  • Landlords, utility companies, or tenants may apply for the funding for a given unit, but no more than one party may apply for funding on the same unit

  • Council member Teresa Loar expressed concern that tenants are able to apply for funding directly, noting that, if the money is not disbursed directly to landlords and utility companies, “the money might not go to the landlord”; Wood responded that there are guidelines in place to ensure the money is applied to bills as intended.

Any member of the public can attend City Council meetings in person or review the proceedings online on the city’s website or YouTube channel. Recordings of most meetings are archived at: http://kansascity.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2

Published on: 2/2/2021