Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Overland Park.
Today, we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item three:
Living expenses in Johnson County have seen double digit increases in the last 4 years. Home ownership is becoming a challenge for people working in a number of professions such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers in Johnson County. Costs for individuals, including those on fixed incomes, who own their home without a mortgage have continued to rise. How would you address the need for more varied priced housing options in Overland Park? (This question was submitted by the Johnson County Health Equity Network, which is focused on housing affordability, stability and safety).
City Council Ward 1
Housing affordability is a big issue in Overland Park. We should be working to provide options so that teachers, public safety officers and young families can afford to live here and grow and diversify our tax base.
This will need to be discussed at the zoning department as we talk about smaller homes. We need to look into many housing options like small cottage communities, backyard houses, and shared driveway communities. This in turn, would add additional revenue streams to the city as we diversify our tax base.
As City Councilperson, I will work diligently to connect our seniors with the programs we have in place to help them age into their homes. I will also look for other ideas and policies to grow out service offerings for seniors as our population continues to age.
Terry Happer-Scheier (incumbent)
I have had some Teachers ,Police and Firefighters reach out to me and feel the suggestion that they can not afford housing is stereotyping. They are making money which allows them to achieve ownership of a house and have said this to me.
As to the idea of people on fixed incomes without a mortgage and rising costs of living this is more of a real concern.
We as a city are looking into this issue. We have hired a consulting firm to give us ideas on options such as backyard units on large residential lot. Fourplexs and possible cottage courts and even more ideas. I understand that in these discussions we are including builders and architects and potential land owners to come up with workable ideas that we the council, can look at and possibly agree to support.
City Council Ward 2
Paul Lyons (incumbent)
I support exploring ideas to increase the pool of affordable housing in the city. Some cities around the nation are changing zoning laws and reducing regulations to encourage building more affordable housing. We need to look at their solutions and see how they might apply to Overland Park. In my view, solving affordable housing involves more than lower rental rates or cost of ownership, but also includes availability of efficient public transportation solutions where workers can commute more reliably to places of employment. The first step will be to understand the scope of the affordable housing problem in Overland Park and how it relates to the rest of the metropolitan area.
Some studies show that increasing the inventory of housing helps temper the cost of all housing in the city. Construction of market-rate housing appears to increase availability of more affordable housing. As our city continues to grow, we need to re-evaluate restrictions on development of new housing in order to keep the balance of supply and demand in check.
I am not a proponent of subsidized housing or providing public funding to developers in exchange for a percentage of lower cost housing units in new developments. No amount of public subsidies will produce affordable housing for everyone.
Let’s look at all options and only then can we make an informed decision on how to proceed.
Overland Park needs more affordable housing especially for seniors living on fixed incomes whose housing costs go up each year due to increased rentals and real estate taxes. The granting of millions of dollars of tax incentives to developers to construct luxury apartments adds to this problem by increasing apartment rental rates. Tax incentives can also reduce the tax base thereby increasing the real estate taxes and overall housing costs of residents who own their homes. As most current affordable housing programs are funded through federal programs that are managed by Johnson County government, greater coordination with county housing officials to coordinate programs should also be explored.
City Council Ward 3
Housing affordability is a crucial issue and one that is not solvable by just one person or entity, public or private. The City should act as a convener, to bring stakeholders from all sides of the public square together to work on the issue, collaborating and generating ideas. The City can also participate alongside other organizations to ensure we are “at the table” and part of a team working on solutions. Internally, there may be policies, zoning laws, and ordinances that after review may be ready for updating and change to allow for implementation of the new ideas generated.
I would like to see OP stop the apartment development, and focus on building small patio homes, or villas. The price point, either to rent or purchase, needs to be within a range to have our Police, Firefighters, EMT’s, and School Teachers in the community. In addition to that, many of our ageing population would like to downsize, but they are not looking to rent an apartment.
We have to get past the issue of housing values of surrounding homes if a small community of smaller homes is built. I would rather see a small home community then a over dense apartment building that encroached on the neighboring homes in a subdivision. The smaller Community will less burdensome on the infrastructure then the dense apartment building.
If development wants to have the taxpayers subsidize an apartment, then they will have to have 10-15% of the units be at a fixed rate. Currently, the State of Kansas doesn’t have any laws that require development to have units at a fixed price. Creating and passing an ordinance to implement this will facilitate a rent ceiling to benefit the City employees and teachers to have them in our City.
Other states are considering laws that would create opportunity for home owners to become developers. The conversation is the homeowner would be able to build a small home on their property, 750-1000 square feet. It would have to be for rent on a yearly contract, and not used as a AirBnB for example. Housing affordability in OP will be an ongoing issue, there will not be one plan that will work for all. The conversation needs to continue, and we need to be open to creative methods to providing housing within the City.
City Council Ward 4
Fred Spears (incumbent)
Affordable housing is a very serious issue both here and nationally. What we are doing is: first, keeping our property taxes the lowest in the County so as to not tax someone out of home ownership or forced to pay higher rent; second we are having conversations with residential developers as to other options where they have ideas or proposals to provide affordable options; third we have our proactive rental inspection program which ensures all single and multifamily rental housing options meet our codes; finally we need to look at our design and zoning requirements to implement flexibility allowing options there. In 2018 we were voted by Smartasset as one of the Top Cities Where Millennials are Buying Homes and Wallethub as best places both to Buy a House and Best Places to Rent. In 2016 we were recognized as one of the Best Places for First Time Buyers by Niche so obviously we are doing some things right. Beyond these, I would welcome any and all creative approaches to provide affordable/available housing options to our residents.
A city thrives when its people thrive.
There are low skilled and low paying jobs in Overland Park. These jobs are still important and are absolutely necessary for this city as a whole to run well. So what happens when the people who work those jobs can no longer afford to live in this City? How far will they travel to work here? How difficult will it be for employers to find people willing to work in a city they can no longer live in?
This very newspaper published stories this week on professionals in Overland Park who cannot afford housing. Again, a city thrives when its people thrive and this is absolutely a topic that Overland Park needs to be discussing.
Two of the best ways for Overland Park to make headway on this issue is to enforce more stringent standards on developments seeking tax incentives. If a developer wants to build apartment complexes and asks for Overland Park’s money, the city needs to include an affordable housing clause in its agreement. This clause will mandate a specific percentage of apartments are designated as affordable.
There are nine new developments approved by City Council in just the past five years that increase your sales tax by anywhere from 1-2%. City council should be better stewards of your money. Instead of putting that money in a developer’s pockets, you can keep it and use it towards living expenses.
City Council Ward 5
Our changing demographics and priorities are more the cause for a slump in home ownership, not simply a function of affordability, but of generational preferences. Permanence is not a priority for many people under thirty. Apartment vacancy rates are at their lowest in recent memory, and that should be included in this question. It’s not just home ownership, but the cost of renting is becoming prohibitive, due to increased demand causing limited supply. As discussed above, I support smart growth that creates density and maintains high quality. When supply reaches the level to balance out demand, rental costs are more balanced and apartments are more accessible to all income levels, also making our community more welcoming to all.
We cannot say we want more variety in our housing options without considering novel ideas that look outside the box of traditional subdivisions. Apartment, real estate, and home builder trade associations are an excellent source of best practices and the latest trends across the nation. We need to solicit their expertise and be intentional about how we move forward to ensure data-supported, forward-thinking development.
Faris Farassati (Incumbent)
Lack of affordable housing can threaten our local, state and national economies and therefore needs attention at all levels. As I had stated in my interview with KCUR in February on this topic, the first step in approaching this problem in a scientific way is to define “affordable housing” for Overland Park. For example: Is the KCMO’s formula of $1200/month (including utilities) applicable to OP? We need a clear understanding based on different parameters such our local economy, job market, housing inventory, demographics and growth projections.
Once a target value range is determined appropriate policies could be implemented. We have more than a few model available to us for review: Establishment of revolving funds to support affordable housing projects (Denver model), lease-to-own programs (Cleveland), models that promote environmental sustainability as a path to long-term affordability (Minneapolis) and projects that connect community resources (such as day cares) to housing. All such solutions highlight the importance of investing our tax dollars in areas such as affordable housing that benefits the public significantly instead of the current trend of bestowing these funds upon luxury apartment and office builders and commercial establishments.
In terms of varied housing, I just like to mention that understanding Overland Park and its people, its culture, demographics, history and its quality of life should be an important framework for us in composing any solution on housing. You probably will hear references to “Accessory Dwelling Units, ADU” or “Cottage units” as units for rent built in the backyard of single-family houses that won’t have any street frontage, as a potential solution suggested to OP by out of town consultants! There is even a need to change our codes to allow for such units. While conversation on this continues, I find such proposal a great example of how solutions NOT based on local research and full understanding of our city FAIL to offer a relevant answer.
City Council Ward 6
Rick Collins (incumbent)
The question is intended to seek a way for OP to find “more varied price housing options.” The implication is that housing needs to be more affordable. The Urban Land Institute recently published commentary which directs the inquiry to “attainable” housing. The focus, according to the ULI, probably should focus on the barriers to more attainable housing. OP has experienced barriers that are market driven – for example, the cost of land, a low unemployment rate in the building trades sector which drives up the cost, and high commodity prices all of which make home building more expensive. All of these barriers are beyond the reach of OP’s capabilities. Having said that, OP has taken some steps over the years to counter balance these barriers. For example, the City Council created zoning districts years ago that reduced lot sizes by reducing front and side yard setbacks with the intent to make land less expensive. The city approved the Downtown Form Based Code to encourage lower priced residential development with expedited planning procedures. The city is now looking at allowing “accessory units” on large lots to be used for family members or even as rental units. The city will be reviewing storm water requirements which may also be a barrier. City staff is also currently renewing its efforts to promote the use of “cottage court” development. In addition, the city is working with Johnson County on a micro transit system to provide low cost transportation. The reality is that the northern part of the city may provide less financial and zoning barriers to help alleviate the problem.
This is a question that comes up in every interview or discussion I have. The irony of the question is that the examples always used are city employees. I definitely feel it is a worthy topic. That being said, asking the taxpayer how they intend to provide for city employees so they can live in the city is rather off target. The federal government analyzes the local economy of everywhere they have employees on an annual basis. They then make “cost of living” adjustments to compensation. That would be a discussion I feel we need to have at the local level.
We also need to discuss the issue of affordably housing in other instances. The city has currently hired a consultant to advise the current council on what they can do with building codes, backyard rentals, and other pocket communities. Since they have already taken this step it is worthwhile to listen to their suggestions and see if it makes for Overland Park.
One other issue address by the question and a topic that always arises in this discussion is how we avoid allowing citizens on fixed incomes to be taxed out of their home. Obviously our current council will grant a tax abatement to any campaign contributor or lobbyist that asks. I think our community would be much better served to use that money to freeze the property tax of senior citizens on a fixed income. I running for city council in an attempt to change the focus from businesses that do not need the handouts they are given and return the focus to serving the residents. I believe this in one way we can begin to achieve that.
Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number four:
What are your views on adoptions of the city-level non-discrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals?