In early June, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Overland Park City Council address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the people of Overland Park.
Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Below are the candidates’ responses to item one:
It’s unaffordable for many low-income residents to live in OP near their jobs. Would you support changes to zoning to allow for denser and more affordable housing options in OP? What specific types of residences would you like to see more of? If you do not support denser housing, are there other policies you think would help more residents afford to live near their jobs in Overland Park?
Affordable housing is an issue that every candidate will claim is a priority. And for good reason! It’s a great quote for a politician to say they support affordable housing so that our teachers, police, firefighters, and other underpaid public servants can afford to live here. It’s a great quote for a politician to sidestep the question and say we just need to stop giving tax breaks to luxury apartment developers. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for politicians to give those quotes and then do nothing to actually fix the problem. You cannot create more affordable housing options without denser living solutions. Period.
Because so many businesses and families want to be in Overland Park, land here is expensive to acquire and develop. Those looking to develop affordable housing options don’t think they can be profitable and because of that, they look elsewhere. So, we need to consider all options, including smaller, more compact homes like we’ve seen be successful in the Veterans Care Project, accessory dwelling units, and additional senior community housing.
We also need leaders who will convince those developers of more affordable housing that the City is capable of considering creative solutions to help ensure these projects can be successful here, despite the high up front cost. But like so many areas of our city government this is also a transparency and accountability problem. We all say this is something we value. If that’s truly the case, it should be something we’re all eager to publicly own. Track the data on affordable options in the city. Release it publicly so that our leaders can be held accountable by the people and by news organizations like the Post. If we treat this as something the Mayor, City Council members, and other local leaders will all be required to stand in front of our residents and report back on, I think we’d see the kind of collaboration and creative thinking that would help deliver results and not just good quotes for politicians.
Stacie Gram (incumbent)
Attainable housing is one of the most difficult problems facing Overland Park. I would consider zoning changes to allow for denser and more affordable housing. Many young people entering the workforce and low to moderate income workers cannot afford to live here. In addition, our aging population needs diverse housing choices as they age in place. Single family home prices have increased dramatically as well.
The good news is the Council has already supported some initiatives to provide more affordable housing. These include converting extended stay hotels into lower cost apartments and a new development of affordable single family rental homes in south Overland Park.
There’s still plenty to do. While taking into consideration the impact on neighboring properties, we should carefully evaluate zoning proposals that would allow higher density infill development. This could include appropriate multiplex units or accessory dwelling units on lots. I would also like to see cottage communities and more mixed-use development that includes reasonably priced housing units.
We will need public/private partnerships to implement more creative developments and provide funding for new programs. I also would consider a fund to provide money to rehabilitate older homes so they can remain viable living spaces.
The economy’s emergence from the pandemic has brought this issue into focus. We are seeing the difficulty businesses are having attracting qualified applicants to fill open positions. Rising housing costs will exacerbate the problem and shrink the pool of applicants to fill important roles. If we can’t provide businesses with the employees they need, the economic health of Overland Park will suffer.
The pandemic has also clarified the importance of being near family. Allowing for additional density, including accessory dwelling units or multiplex units built near single family homes, will allow us to live near family members. For example, elderly grandparents could live in an apartment on the same lot as their child’s single-family home.
The pandemic caused us all to focus on home, as a place of work, for family, for entertainment, for rest. As we focus more on our homes, it is critically important that the city offer options that are affordable for all residents at all stages of life.
I’m for affordable housing if we are talking single family homes that fit in the long term plan as we expand Overland Park. (Smaller footage, minimum property lines, starter homes) Question, would a developer step up?
Existing area homes:
When we zoned any area for residential building (past or future) we are making a contract with those homeowners, that when they build or buy, that area around them will be for what they expected at the time they purchased according to our master plan. This is the same for higher density housing, which I live! This building of duplexes, town homes and apartments should be well thought out and part of our city’s master plan. Allowing variances different from our plan against homeowners that bought in good faith is not something I would support.Make a plan, have a plan and work it, communication is the key. If a developer comes in and asks for a variance, they need to have the blessing of those that have already built around them. This goes for businesses housing and schools! We need to protect our neighbors who trusted the city to follow the master plan. No surprises down the road! Keep our word!
I would support zoning changes to allow for more affordable housing options in Overland Park. However, I don’t think it is realistic to plan on building new “affordable housing”.
The current construction and land costs are too high. Very few lower-wage and/or new families have enough for a 20% down payment on a home, therefore we need to look at what we have in existing housing stock and rental options. From a broader perspective, the Senate Bill 366 passed in 2016 created a Kansas statute that limited the percentages of affordable housing in new projects. I’d like to see this be repealed or amended as it attached some radical quotas that are not in support of expansion of affordable housing assistance.
Despite political barriers, we still have a responsibility to support quality housing that is secure and safe for those who want to live in Overland Park. We can explore national solutions, similar to the GI Bill after World War II which allowed GIs returning from the war to purchase houses. We need to continue to work with the United Community Services taskforce who have identified specific housing needs and how we could best assist with policies to meet those needs, such as local employment centers, transportation access and daycare centers.
I also support many of the initiatives the Mid America Regional Council has taken to address significant disparities in housing. I support programs to increase and integrate opportunity. We need to continue to strengthen our presence, support and collaboration with these agencies and come up with some viable ways to promote affordable housing programs within the city.
I strongly believe that any professional who wants to work in Overland Park should have an option to live in Overland Park. I think a good benchmark is looking at the salary for a new teacher or a new police officer and then evaluate what type of housing options are available. I know a certain segment of this community is very anti-apartment, but I believe that apartments can be one form of affordable housing (and the percentage of apartments to single family homes is the same today as it has been historically since OP was founded and has remained relatively consistent throughout the city’s existence). As residents want to own their homes, I do believe that zoning is an effective tool that can be used to help drive more affordable housing options.
Affordable housing options ensures a city is welcoming to a diverse population. I would support zoning changes to facilitate building a greater variety of housing types (single-family homes, patio homes and/or townhomes) within our community. We have a higher demand for more neighborhoods with single-family homes than we have for more luxury apartments.
I believe it’s important we explore any creative solution(s) which would increase the availability of affordable housing options for young adults who just graduated from college, as well as residents with a fixed or lower income. I’d like to explore whether the city could collaborate with developers to renovate large, existing, vacant properties into an additional housing type. I’d rather see a property repurposed, than to sit vacant year over year (i.e., Wright Career College at I-435 and Metcalf).
We should also consider adding a tab to the home page of our city’s website opkansas.org for “Residents”. There’s a tremendous amount of resources within Johnson County if you know where to look. Offering links to those resources could greatly benefit any resident in need of housing assistance. Having a section on the website focused on Residents would also be helpful for organizing information, increasing communication, and generating awareness of key issues.
On Tuesday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the following question:
The Overland Park police department has faced ongoing criticism and scrutiny over how it handled Officer Clayton Jenison shooting and killing teenager John Albers in 2018. Last September, the FBI opened a civil rights investigation on the matter, which is still ongoing. The city recently released the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Team’s report on the incident after months of public outcry. Do you agree with how the police department and city have handled this issue to date? If not, what should have been done differently? How should the city handle the issue of police transparency and accountability going forward?
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