Survey finds Johnson County’s need for affordable housing is growing, but ‘NIMBY’ opposition remains

Preliminary findings from the Johnson County Municipalities Housing Study currently underway already reveal some notable trends, particularly regarding teardown-rebuilds and pushback on multifamily housing.

Increasing affordable housing stock, access to public transportation and access to jobs and investment opportunities are all areas of growth in Johnson County. But although the number of cost-burdened households in Johnson County is on the rise, there remains a pushback from single-family homeowners resisting denser housing solutions that would support those goals.

That is one takeaway from the 2020 Human Services Summit last week, when members of United Community Services of Johnson County revealed some initial findings of a countywide study on housing.

Led by UCS, Johnson County and local municipalities, the Johnson County Municipalities Housing Study is currently underway. Preliminary findings already reveal some notable trends, particularly regarding teardown-rebuilds and homeowner opposition to multifamily housing.

Amy A. Haase, principal-in-charge, and Charlie Cowell, project manager, of RDG Planning & Design, the consultant for the study, presented the initial findings of the study and an accompanying survey during the summit, which was virtual this year due to the health risks of large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly 150 screens were actively participating in the virtual summit via Zoom.

“I always struggle with the use of the word affordable because, clearly, people have certain connotations that they use with that word,” Haase said, noting the term “workforce housing” could be a replacement.

Johnson County is seeing an increase in the number of building permits for new apartments and multi-family developments. Haase said participants in the study’s listening sessions say they face barriers when seeking the proper zoning for their projects. 

Resistance from single-family homeowners create barriers for multifamily developers who seek to create the density that is required to support public transportation systems, jobs and businesses, Haase said. 

“Talking with a lot of individuals in our small group conversation, the barrier — I’ll just be blunt — has probably been more around the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue and the issue of bringing a project to planning commission and council… they have the ability to do it, but neighbors being very concerned about what that means,” Haase said. “So how do we begin to educate, how do we begin to advocate, maybe have some third-party voices that can be around the table, talking about what we need to be doing for our communities and what really makes for a healthy housing market.”

Hasse noted that finding the right housing options to meet the needs of empty nesters and young families will be key to the county’s future.

Other initial findings of the study:

  • There’s a “log jam” of people moving through the various stages of housing — from rentals to startup homes to homes for raising a family, and finally to homes for retirement and aging.
  • Johnson County has experienced “tremendous” growth from the 1990s to present day. By 2030, the county may have 88,800 new residents; at 2.5 people per household, that means almost 36,000 new housing units will be needed. 
  • Preservation of single-family homes and other housing stock is one strategy to address affordable housing in Johnson County.

RDG is continuing research on teardown-rebuild trends in Johnson County. Haase said more research still needs to be done, but they have already noticed a greater appetite for tearing down older but smaller homes in Johnson County for the sake of upsizing on the same lot, which could be considered a negative impact. Teardown-rebuild trends give an idea of the changing landscape of housing, and will be included in the study’s findings. 

Johnson County’s cost-burdened households

Johnson County has seen an increase in the percentage of cost-burdened households. A household is considered cost-burdened if the owner or renter is spending at least 30% of income on mortgage or rent. RDG Planning & Design’s presentation showed that most cities in Johnson County have seen an increase in cost-burdened households from 2000 to 2018. Renters are also much more likely to be cost-burdened than homeowners.

Some areas, like Mission, Mission Hills and Lake Quivira, have seen at least a 7% jump in cost-burdened households over the last two decades.

Overall, Edgerton has the highest cost-burdened population of any city in the county, at 23.4%. Shawnee is a close second at 20.7%. Other cities’ cost-burdened populations stand as follows:

    • De Soto 18.6%
    • Leawood 18.3%
    • Spring Hill 15.2%
    • Olathe 14.3%
    • Merriam 8.4%
    • Lenexa 6.6%
    • Overland Park 4.8%
    • Gardner 3%
    • Prairie Village 0.1%

Below is a graphic showing a map of cost-burdened households:

RDG Planning & Design revealed other findings from the countywide survey:

  • At least 50% of respondents support plans for down payment assistance, and almost 50% support housing rehabilitation loans. At least 40% of respondents also support duplex or townhome construction, and 40% would support mortgage assistance programs.
  • Most survey participants believe that workers making below $16 an hour, people who need to be near public transit services and students, all lack adequate housing options in Johnson County.
  • At least 40% of survey participants who reported a household income of less than $25,000 said they spend $500 to $1,000 a month on housing.
  • A majority of respondents believe there is an undersupply of rental options less than $500 a month, and also rental options between $500 and $1,000 a month.
  • A majority of respondents believe there is an undersupply of homes to purchase for less than $200,000. 

“We still have places that we can physically grow, but we want to make sure that we’re also growing in the most affordable way possible, that the way we grow today creates high-quality growth opportunities that the next generation can maintain and afford,” Haase said. “I think we need to continue to be pretty strategic and thoughtful about how we grow and how we’re going to pay for that growth down the road.”

Julie Brewer, executive director of UCS, said housing issues are key to a healthy community, in both quality of life for individuals and families as well as economy and business vitality. 

“Now, more than ever, we see the vital role housing plays in our health and the health disparities that are a consequence when we lack access to housing choice,” Brewer said.

RDG Planning & Design is also conducting listening sessions to obtain qualitative data for the countywide study. Those listening sessions include real estate agents, developers, major employers, retirees, economic development representatives and others. The study wraps up at the end of this year.