Johnson County housing costs remain a concern — new ‘toolkit’ pushes cities to find solutions

Cities in northern Johnson County are starting talks on ways to have a more active role in housing attainability in their communities. Those conversations center around the Housing for All Toolkit, a newly released document that lays out goals for building diverse housing stock and allowing people from all incomes the chance to live in Johnson County. Above, homes in Prairie Village. File photo.

A so-called “housing toolkit” is now available for cities in Johnson County to use in advocating for more affordable residential development within their jurisdictions.

The new document, dubbed the the Housing for All Toolkit, aims to provide guidance for cities to think about adding more attainable housing, as affordability and the cost of housing remains a major concern among many Johnson County residents.

United Community Services of Johnson County, a local nonprofit that facilitated the recent Johnson County Municipalities Community Housing Study, released the housing toolkit earlier this month at its annual Human Services Summit.

“The biggest thing we learned through this multi-year process is we have to find a place at the table for everyone,” said Julie Brewer, executive director of UCS. Above, a file photo of Brewer at a summit a few years ago.

Representatives of the nonprofit are now visiting cities in Johnson County this summer to talk about the toolkit and how its recommendations could be implemented.

“Johnson County and our municipalities have been actively engaged throughout the development of the Housing for All Toolkit,” said Kristy Baughman with United Community Services of Johnson County. “From the implementation of the Johnson County Housing Study, to the Housing for All Task Force workshops, this work has benefitted from their participation, insight, and experience. The end result is that the Toolkit was designed to provide a menu of possible recommendations that the County and each municipality can choose from and modify according to their unique context.”

For example, at a June 21 meeting with the Overland Park City Council, Julie Brewer, executive director of UCS, said the toolkit offers strategies to help communities answer residents about adding denser housing options, which are often opposed by “NIMBY” attitudes.

“The biggest thing we learned through this multi-year process is we have to find a place at the table for everyone,” Brewer said. “Because if you do something to me, I’m going to have a very emotional reaction, and it’s going to feel very intrusive. If you do something with me and I’m a part of developing that next ecosystem that I am a part of and subsequent residents are a part of, we feel that that’s that recipe, that secret sauce for success.”

Goals of the Housing for All Toolkit

The top five goals laid out in the Housing for All Toolkit are:

  1. Preserve and rehabilitate existing housing stock
  2. Reduce overall household expenses so housing is more affordable
  3. Increase the variety of housing types, especially “middle density” stock like condos and duplexes
  4. Incentivize production of affordable and attainable housing stock by sharing risk, reducing gaps in the private market, and funding housing
  5. Build advocacy behind the idea of affordable and attainable housing

City leaders and staff from multiple communities in Johnson County participated in the housing study, including some in Prairie Village, Lenexa and Shawnee.

Here are some of their takeaways.

Lenexa

Some of Lenexa’s housing stock is getting older, while much of the city is still rural and undeveloped. The city is exploring ways to preserve its existing housing stock. Above, single-family homeowners came out in opposition to the higher-density apartments proposed between their subdivision and K-7 Highway. File photo.

Scott McCullough, community development director for Lenexa who participated in a task force for those efforts, said Lenexa city leaders will meet later this year to talk about the Housing for All Toolkit and how it can best meet the challenges facing the city.

Those conversations will likely pair with discussions to update the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Our team was happy to participate in the process that led to the report,” McCullough said. “This will be an ongoing process as we continue to explore this important topic.”

McCullough said he thinks the toolkit will be good for cities to review and determine which tools work best to address their specific housing issues.

“I think for the city of Lenexa, understanding the issues is going to be one key part of the challenge, which is to understand what issues affect Lenexa itself, and then we can explore ways to address those matters,” McCullough said.

One such issue that is not unique to Lenexa is “NIMBYism,” McCullough said, pushback from neighboring homeowners who don’t want to live near apartments or commercial projects.

At the same time, Lenexa is already working to encourage the preservation of existing housing stock in the city.

The city recently revamped its exterior grant program, which helps homeowners pay for home improvement projects. Home rehabilitation keeps housing stock more affordable and helps avoid the tear-down rebuild trend seen in older neighborhoods.

Overland Park

Overland Park city leaders learned more about the Housing for All Toolkit in a committee meeting June 21. Several councilmembers showed support for the project, while others had questions on how to tackle housing challenges.

Councilmember Fred Spears showed interest in taking a countywide or more regional approach to creating attainable housing opportunities. He added that he thinks NIMBYism is one of the biggest challenges to developing attainable housing.

“You talked about how everybody wants a safe neighborhood, well lit, good schools, nice infrastructure,” Spears said. “So we’re all alike, it’s just how do we do it? I’m stumped.”

Councilmember Holly Grummert shared her support for using the toolkit to develop diverse housing options for people in all age groups.

“It’s great to see these toolkits being usable for us,” Grummert said. “The important things that I hear are how are we preserving our stock, how are we making homes livable for a long period of time, how do we preserve our affordable housing that we have now. It’s really exciting to hear about the housing advocates.”

Prairie Village

Affordable housing is still at the top of mind for many in Prairie Village, as the city’s long-term plan Village Vision 2.0 is considered. One resident said affordable housing isn’t something the city can achieve, it’s determined by the market. File photo.

Prairie Village has already begun working to tackle housing issues through development of Village Vision 2.0, the city’s updated comprehensive plan.

The Prairie Village City Council will learn more about the toolkit on July 19, and then talks will begin on next steps.

Jamie Robichaud, deputy city administrator for Prairie Village, said “finding ways that we can move the needle” on attainable housing is a top priority for the city.

“Village Vision 2.0 says that the city should create a comprehensive housing strategy to address attainable and workforce housing issues in Prairie Village,” Robichaud said. “So I think that the toolkit is going to be a really big part of that discussion in creating that strategy specific for Prairie Village.”

As an older, landlocked city, Prairie Village is facing a growing teardown-rebuild trend, where smaller homes at smaller prices get torn down and replaced with bigger homes that end up pricing people out of those neighborhoods. Older neighborhoods in Johnson County and the Kansas City metro area face this trend as well.

Robichaud said Prairie Village will likely take a look at residential design guidelines and zoning regulations to see how they impact housing attainability. The city may explore ways to incentivize the preservation of housing stock, such as through an exterior grant program.

“There’s probably lots of things in the toolkit that are relevant to Prairie Village, but not all of it is going to be,” Robichaud said. “I do think that there are ideas in this toolkit that can certainly help cities play a more active role in addressing housing attainability in their communities, and we’re definitely going to take a very close look at that.”

Shawnee

Shawnee faces pushback from single-family homeowners who dislike living near apartments. Above, a rendering of the 5700 King Apartments that had been proposed for the former site of the Wonderscope Children’s Museum downtown. File photo.

The Shawnee City Council will convene later this year to learn about the Housing for All Toolkit. A date has not yet been set, but a city spokesperson said it could be later this summer or early fall.

Nolan Sunderman, city manager of Shawnee, said he learned about opportunities and gaps in Shawnee’s housing market when he participated in developing the toolkit.

“I look forward to working with staff and our Governing Body to identify opportunities to connect our community members who are looking for safe, stable and attainable housing,” Sunderman told the Shawnee Mission Post via email.

“There are affordability concerns — where one can afford a home may not be near their workplace which creates a transportation need,” said Nolan Sunderman, city manager of Shawnee.

Like other communities in Johnson County, Shawnee has seen “NIMBY” pushback from homeowners in single-family houses when developers try to bring forward multi-family housing projects.

Likewise, Shawnee faces housing attainability issues, Sunderman said.

“There are affordability concerns — where one can afford a home may not be near their workplace which creates a transportation need,” Sunderman said. “Residents also have a desire to age in place and remain independent.”

Sunderman said the toolkit as well as a newly updated comprehensive plan can be helpful for the city as it tackles housing attainability.

“This information provides an opportunity to have a conversation in our community,” he added. “By having this information, we can continue to engage our community members to make sure we are providing the appropriate housing that meets everyone’s needs.”