Shawnee City Council candidates on the issues: Does Shawnee need more affordable housing options?

A rendering of the Suttle Woods duplex residential subdivision planned for Shawnee.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Shawnee.

Today we publish the candidates’ responses to question five:

Does Shawnee need more affordable housing options? If so, what strategies should the city be looking at to make such options available?

City Council Ward 3 (four year term)

Nick Reed

Yes, we need affordable housing options. In my profession, I frequently find people who are looking for housing that does not come with a $300,000 mortgage payment. People who are retiring, people delaying having kids, people just starting out in life and people who just don’t see the need to be a homeowner.

They care about the community that they live in. They shop in the stores and eat in the restaurants that people are asking for. Having more affordable living options will insulate the city in slow economic times and will help encourage a diverse and vibrant community.

In order to achieve this, I think we need to look at how we can establish areas for his in our community development plan. Look for opportunities to provide villas and mixed use commercial and residential areas. This also means the use of townhomes and apartments. I believe that, with the right long-term planning, we can find appropriate areas to offer this living option without sacrificing the local identity of Shawnee.

Kurt Knappen

Shawnee has many affordable housing options throughout the city. In Western Shawnee alone, prospective residents can choose between the townhomes off of SM Pkwy and Monticello, The Greens Apartment Complex or the Prairie Pines duplexes just west of K-7 and Johnson Drive. Additionally, the latest Woodsonia Project has been proposed and will likely result in additional affordable housing. Future multi-family construction in Western Shawnee needs to be well thought out and not overly dense in nature. As a Ward 3 City Councilman, I will advocate for re-assessing the long-term zoning plan and be judicious in working to ensure that future multi-family developments are friendly to nearby neighborhoods.

Dawn Rattan

Yes. Housing is a big part of America’s story of innovation, productivity, and economic growth. Housing helps to drive the economy by stimulating demand for other goods and services and therefore economic growth.

Shawnee has great schools and I applaud parents who want their kids to have access to quality education. Many hard working families need affordable housing.
We also have young adults who are fresh out of college who may not immediately have a lot of income but may want to live in our area and someday upgrade to a bigger house when they start a family and remain in Shawnee and not relocate to other areas of the KC metropolitan area. These young adults also need affordable housing.

Workers with low and moderate wages have jobs in the Shawnee area. Shortening their commute will improve productivity and reduce their transportation costs, possibly freeing up income to purchase other goods and services in our community. These workers also need affordable housing.

Our community is safe and clean –a quality that everyone desires for their family regardless of income level.

The leaders of the city must unanimously support the goal of affordable housing and realize its importance to our economic vitality.

Other cities have tried inclusionary zoning or non-profit community land trusts as means to create affordable housing. For inclusionary zoning developers must build a small percentage of their homes prices for people earning 80% of the Area Median Income. In a CLT, the trust acquires land and maintains ownership of it permanently. With prospective homeowners, it enters into a long-term, renewable lease instead of a traditional sale. When the homeowner sells, the family earns only a portion of the increased property value. The remainder is kept by the trust, preserving the affordability for future low- to moderate-income families.

Here’s a link to a successful affordable housing effort in Colorado.

City Council Ward 3 (two year term)

Kevin Straub

I believe there needs to be affordable one level living housing projects for seniors like Town & Country Villas which I helped bring to western Shawnee and develop. I am now selling one level living at The Greens of Chapel Creek Townhomes. We also need to ensure we keep taxes low and do not further add to the burden of buying a home. I would also support a senior apartment project. I know there is a need for lower priced homes for sale and apartments for rent. Ward 3 has too many areas master planned for apartments. We need to look at the needs of the area plan accordingly. I am not in favor of high density or low-quality housing or apartments.

Greg Sitzmann

Affordable housing is always important to a city. Where these affordable housing locations are located is always the key question. I strongly believe there are some great places for apartments and duplexes within the Shawnee city limits. The Shawnee Government must work with developers to help identify these locations. It’s about the right developments in the right locations.

Lisa Larson-Bunnell (incumbent)

I am committed to keeping Shawnee welcoming, inclusive and accessible. We cannot be accessible when we do not have enough affordable housing. According to United Community Services of Johnson County, police officers, fire fighters, social workers, and elementary school teachers cannot afford to live in our city. The presence of these individuals enhances our community. I believe that we have a need for more affordable housing in our area so these hard workers have the opportunity to live here if they choose. I am in support of both market rate and luxury multi-family housing in Shawnee. I am also in support of smaller units such as studio apartments that will appeal to young professionals working in our “tech corridor.” New smaller homes with lower starting prices would also be a welcome addition.

While must be thoughtful about the precise location of these developments, having a variety of housing options will make our community stronger.

City Council Ward 4

Matt Shaw

I do not believe that we need to be pursuing strategies to boost affordable housing in Shawnee at this time. Shawnee already has a large and diverse existing supply of housing stock, with options that a wide range of budgets can choose from. Shawnee is an affordable and desirable place to live, and provides a strong value proposition to its residents, particularly when compared to the rest of the metro area.

I think a larger concern is the lack of housing for seniors and retirees looking to downsize or live in retirement communities. I have spoken to individuals who have lived their entire lives in Shawnee and want to keep that trend but are afraid that they will have to look outside the city for housing options that will fit their needs as they age. I would love to see and help make a reality out of building some more senior living complexes in some of our undeveloped spaces. I have felt the impacts first hand as we moved my Grandma from Montana to Kansas and spent a lot of time looking for quality senior housing in the area. We very much wanted to keep her in Shawnee and found it a real struggle to find what she needed.

Jill Chalfie

Affordable, yes, but keep in mind that affordable is different from low-income housing, which I believe we have a sufficient inventory of. Shawnee has not built a new multi-family complex in over a decade which I believe causes us to miss out on two important groups of people. We don’t have market-rate rental options for the recent college graduates, the mid-20’s millennials who are looking for new, higher end apartments with amenities and desire a live/work/play environment. Similarly, we are lacking new up-to-date maintenance-free housing for retirees who are downsizing and want to stay in Shawnee. Additionally, Shawnee could benefit from new average-priced homes which can help attract young families who are first time home buyers. In considering any new residential development, whether multi-family or single-family, it is important to use available data from organizations like United Community Services and the Mid-America Regional Council to help drive decisions.

Kris Durbin

If private developers recognize a specific demand, then the city should consider the opportunity as a part of their local planning strategies.

I do not believe that the city should be pursuing developers to build “more affordable housing” as a policy approach for the entire city. Different parts of our community have different needs. Those needs create market demand, and the city should be interested in accommodating developers who want to cater to those demands.