Overland Park Wards 1 and 2 City Council candidates on the issues: Affordable housing

Overland Park city council candidates answer a question about affordable housing in the city. The Vue Apartments near downtown Overland Park are one of a number of high-end, luxury apartment developments that have opened in Johnson County in recent years. File photo.

In early June, the Shawnee Mission Post asked readers for input on questions for candidates vying for seats in the upcoming election season. Based on that input, the Post developed a questionnaire for candidates running for Overland Park city council seats.

We’ll publish the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing 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?

Overland Park City Council Ward 1

Michael Czerniewski

I do support more affordable housing options because people need a place to live near where their jobs are.  If the jobs pop up and it’s too expensive to live there, the job will go unfilled.  What I would like is some balance between the luxury apartments that have been going up and the “slum” at 79th and Santa Fe: affordable mixed-use development.  I would be okay with new single-family options, provided that the neighborhoods are okay with it.  I don’t want another repeat performance of the situation in my neighborhood.

Logan Heley (incumbent)

Yes, I would support changes to zoning to allow for more diverse and affordable housing options in our city. As a recent first-time home buyer, I know first-hand that housing affordability is one of our community’s biggest challenges right now.

The 2021 Johnson County Housing Study was recently released with recommendations on how to make our community more healthy and affordable for all. We need to do our part in Overland Park to help implement those recommendations. Among those recommendations, which I support, was adding more townhomes, patio homes, du-and tri-plexes, co-housing, and Accessory Dwelling Units to our city’s housing stock. That’s why when developers come asking for incentives, I tell them they need to help us make housing more affordable in our city. And I have a record of getting those commitments.

We won’t solve this challenge overnight, but housing affordability is and will continue to be my top priority for our community.

Carol Merritt

As a Johnson County realtor who lives in Overland Park, Kansas, I have some solutions to the problem of the affordable housing shortage.
1) As of today, July 7, 2021, there are at least 20 very affordable homes for sale in Overland Park. All of these are under
$160,000. With interest rates low, 3%, and lower, they are waiting for owners. People are unaware that there are government grants for down payments.
I work with several trusted senior mortgage lenders that can qualify clients and approve potential home owners with NO MONEY DOWN. Many of my clients walk into closing with no money and walk OUT WITH CASH. It is easy to qualify with less than stellar credit.
This is a great way to affordable home ownership in our city.
I would like to see investors turn some of the over abundance of apartments into affordable townhomes for sale. That would satisfy the need for people to live near their employment. The city council could suggest a certain percentage of builders to provide these. The council needs to consider this seriously and provide incentives to investors.

Ryan Spencer

The denser housing options being built are not affordable in the first place (most have rental rates similar or higher than comparable mortgages) and they only end up raising property taxes and home values for the single family housing around them thereby pricing home buyers out of the market. I would like to see more single-family homes or smaller multi-unit buildings (such as Oxford Row on 80th and Glenwood) be built and that they blend in with the existing surrounding neighborhoods. I’d also like to see the city council use some of its influence to convince new apartment development to be at market rates instead of yet another “luxury” complex. We have apartments with lower rental rates with availability in OP, the problem is everyone wants to give TIF money to luxury units instead of using that money as it’s more so intended, to help create housing opportunities for all market levels.

Overland Park City Council Ward 2

Melissa Cheatham

My husband and I chose Overland Park as the place we wanted to raise our family in part because it offered affordable housing for us. When we settled here, I had just quit my job in order to be a stay-at-home mom and he had taken a substantial pay cut in order to start his own business. Despite our reduced income, we could still find an affordable home. Today, a family in a similar position would likely struggle to find a home because prices have climbed so dramatically. Affordable housing isn’t just a low-income issue. We must tackle this to remain a welcoming community.

I was pleased to participate in the Housing For All Task Force convened by United Community Services of Johnson County. The Task Force evaluated dozens of solutions, many of which I believe could be successful here. I believe changes in zoning can be part of a package of remedies that will chip away at the problem. I’m particularly interested in changes that would result in more “missing middle” housing, such as those identified in the 2019 recommendations from the Incremental Development Alliance. I’m interested in learning more about “accessory dwelling units” or “granny flats” that could provide homes for aging parents, recent graduates, or enable long-time residents to age in place by providing rental income, a solution supported by AARP, the country’s biggest lobby for retirees. I would support prioritizing incentives to encourage non-luxury, rather than luxury-only, homes.

I support a holistic approach to affordability, which considers the full cost of living in a home. As such, I successfully pushed to make Overland Park’s building code for new homes the most energy efficient in the county, which will save owners money on their utility bills. I also support investments that make walking, biking and transit safe and practical choices so that residents can choose to forgo the costs of car travel when they wish.

Tony Medina

I agree that affordable housing is a problem in Overland Park and throughout Johnson County. We have seen a proliferation of apartments in recent years and all too often these are luxury apartments that are not accessible to low-income households. I would support zoning changes specifically intended to provide additional affordable housing options. This could be a combination of streamlining the permitting process, increasing the density limits, and revising parking requirements. Generally, traditional apartment complexes are associated with affordable housing, but we can also explore multi-family townhome developments and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Single-family homes are often out of reach for lower-income families due to maintenance costs. I would explore rehabilitation and maintenance programs for single-family homes for both owner-occupied units and rental properties. Overland Park is very familiar with providing economic incentives to developers and while I believe we need to scale back the overall use of these tools, I would support providing tax breaks or incentives to developers of affordable housing projects for lower-income residents. Additionally, we can explore providing rent subsidies to tenants, especially when experiencing a critical shortage of affordable housing options.

Roger Tarbutton

Overland Park zoning regulations currently allow for the construction of a variety of affordable housing options such as duplexes, triplexes and patio homes. I oppose the development of high-rise apartments next to single family residential neighborhoods in Ward 2 as was proposed at Ranchmart South due to increased traffic and the negative impact such development has on the character of suburban neighborhoods. Ward 2 already has a significant number of apartments including on each side of Metcalf. Instead of using tax incentives to subsidize construction of high-rise luxury apartments, a practice which contributes to high housing costs, incentives should be used where appropriate to redevelop or rehabilitate existing housing stock. Currently, most affordable housing programs in Overland Park are funded by the federal government and managed by Johnson County Government. If elected, I will encourage staff to confer with Johnson County Government to explore new ways of addressing the issue.

Tomorrow, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question #2:

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?