Overland Park City Council wards 1, 2 and 3 candidates on the issues: Affordable housing

Kansas housing survey

Overland Park Wards 1, 2 and 3 city council candidates discuss their plans to ensure Overland Park has housing options that would be affordable to people without high household incomes. Filed image.

In August, 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 citizens of Overland Park.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

The cost of housing in Overland Park makes it unattainable for many families with average or below average incomes. What is your plan to ensure Overland Park has housing options that would be affordable to people without high household incomes? Would you support ordinance changes to allow developers to build attainable housing like cottage communities, town homes, etc…?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Ward 3

Jim Kite (incumbent)

Overland Park has already undertaken the creation of a Rental Property Inspection & Licensing process, to assure that our existing lower cost housing is more desirable. In addition, the planning department has been directed to allow small lot-size developments around downtown Overland Park. The city has also approved its first conversion of a suites hotel to apartments. There’s obviously more to be done, but any more direct approach will need to be a collaborative program with the county and include funding through Mid America Regional Council.

Amanda Vega-Mavec

In talking to residents they support the need for more affordable housing, but they would like to see options other than apartments. This is something that is supported across incomes as well as by homeowners and renters. Like many, I have watched the recent presentation by UCS on housing in Johnson County and appreciate the information on housing possibilities beyond apartments. Yes, I would support ordinance changes that allow for more variety in housing options, such as cottage communities, townhouses, and the redevelopment of already existing buildings into housing. A variety of options would allow residents across income levels to better find a home that fits their needs and desires.

Ward 1

Logan Heley (incumbent)

Yes, I would support ordinance changes 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 the recommendations, which I support, was adding more townhomes, patio homes, duplexes and triplexes, 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. For example, because of my leadership, in June 2021 the Council directed staff to require the Bluhawk developer to make an annual financial contribution to the ForwardOP nonprofit organization to support housing affordability and environmental sustainability efforts. We won’t solve this challenge overnight, but housing affordability is and will continue to be my top priority for our community.

Ryan Spencer

I don’t know what we’re considering “affordable” but the average household yearly income for OP is $71,000, 25% of that is $1,500 a month that is recommended you spend on housing. There are currently hundreds of 2-bedroom apartments under $900 in Overland Park that are available. There are also over 150 single family homes for sale under $230,000 which would give you a mortgage of under $1,000. So the idea that there is no affordable housing is just not true.

That said, I know we can always use more and there’s plenty of residents who are below average income. I love some of the creative solutions we can provide such as converting old extended stay hotels into affordable apartments, and promoting alternative housing such as cottage housing, tiny housing communities and townhomes; and I’m happy to re-examine zoning and ordinances on a cases by cases basis to make those a reality (pending feedback from the potential surrounding community).

My problem with the current city council on this issue is that none of the decisions made by them in recent history point towards these solutions at all. Every development incentive given for apartments, housing developments, or even senior housing apparently must include the word “luxury”. I get that there’s many who want “luxury” living but those developments will happen regardless of government intervention, the housing that needs assistance in the form of incentives and tax breaks are the companies who are willing to build “non-luxury” housing. If there’s ordinances or zoning in the way, I can’t imagine why we can’t re-evaluate those because we should be encouraging all options for our city, not just those that bring in the most tax revenue (eventually), or those that look the nicest that we can point to come re-election time.

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 where those who make our lives, schools, businesses, and city work can also live.

I believe we need more housing diversity in Overland Park. We’ve already succeeded in building large apartment complexes and large single-family houses, but we need to address the “missing middle.” For example, AARP, the country’s biggest lobby for retirees, advocates for “accessory dwelling units” or “granny flats” that could provide homes for aging parents, recent graduates, or enable long-time residents on fixed incomes to age in place by providing rental income. I would support ordinance changes that would allow developers to meet our community’s demands for diverse housing options, such as those identified in the 2019 recommendations from the Incremental Development Alliance. I would support prioritizing incentives to encourage non-luxury, rather than luxury-only, homes.

We’ll find the best solutions to the problem of housing affordability when we consider the full cost of living in Overland Park. 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 residents 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.

Roger Tarbutton

Overland Park has adequate zoning regulations but must do a better job of encouraging developers to utilize them for the construction of affordable housing rather than luxury apartments. The biggest threat to affordable housing in Ward 2 is from ever-increasing property taxes such as the recent 10% increase. Although the City often boasts that its property taxes are less than its peers, it must recognize it does not tax in a vacuum and the cumulative effect of increased city property taxes when combined with the property tax increases of other municipal entities such as school districts, county government, SM parks, Johnson County Libraries and JCCC all contribute to resident’s overall tax burden making it difficult for residents on fixed incomes to remain in Overland Park.

On Thursday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question #4:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience?