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:
Chris Newlin (incumbent)
This is a complex issue that will not be solved by Overland Park alone, but we can lead by taking steps to welcome more diverse housing stock. We need to follow the recommendations of the 2021 Johnson County Housing study as a guide to making our community more healthy and affordable for all.
Some of these recommendations include adding more townhomes, patio homes, or accessory dwellings. Accessory dwellings would be a great fit for some larger lots in Ward 6 that developers/landowners would consider more appropriate to help adult children or seniors. I would be in favor of examining how we can accommodate this segment of our population in our planning.
I am proud to have voted for the recent conversion of deteriorating hotels into studio and one-bedroom apartments. These are set up to help people with lower incomes live and work in Overland Park and are reviving aging buildings.
In Ward 6, I approved the building of a new neighborhood near 175th and Pflumm which will have single-family homes on ⅛ lots that will be available for rent and provide a pathway to homeownership. Recently, I was talking to a teacher who heard about this project and mentioned this would cut her commute by 40 minutes and provide her with better quality of life.
We will not solve this challenge overnight, but I will work to find the best way we can ensure all generations can be part of the Overland Park community.
My first priority is to make sure we protect the value and affordability of the homes our existing residents own and live in. So, I would not reduce their affordability by raising the mill levy. As we develop new residential communities, we should allow for a variety of price points and types of construction, to accommodate a wide variety of buyers. However, it is critical that we plan for this development in a way so that lower cost housing developments does not drive down the value of existing homes in the area. That said, housing is a regional issue not a City issue – and the Kansas City metro area is still very affordable relative to other large metropolitan areas.
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.
We first need to define what is affordable housing. There is no definition for Overland Park. Each Ward will be different. A neighborhood in Ward 4 will be different than Ward 1, etc.. KC, Mo uses a guideline of $800 rent per unit including utilities. OP is not defined. Let’s take the conversion of the hotel suites currently being done. The developer stated their price will be between $800 and $1100 per month. The issue is there was no guarantees written in to make this stick! I hope that the developer sticks with his plan.
The city has a long range development plan in place for a reason and the city is continually asked to change it to “keep up with the times”. I believe we should stick to the plan with very little changes, unless changes can be made without affecting people in place! If I buy a house for $300,000, which backs up to land zoned for apartments, I have no issue with apartments being built. My eyes were open when I bought the house! If that land was zoned next to me for more single family living, that is what should be built there. I believe the city in essence made a contract with me. It seems to be easy for those that aren’t affected by this, to vote for a change! I will not! I believe we honor our word! There are several examples of this trust being violated, and residents are getting upset! Rightly so! The Deer Creek apartment project is one example in Ward 5. In Ward 4, there is another that hopefully will be stopped by the current council. A developer wants to increase density at a current apartment location off Quivira and 137th at to 6 stories from 4 stories around existing homes! The planning commission turned the developers request down and it now goes to the council to vote on. I would hope they stop this from happening!
I’m not for building apartments everywhere because it is not what Overland Park is. I live in an apartment complex in the city and most apartments in my area cost more than my house does in Independence. I pay it because I want to live here, my choice! No one owes me cheaper rent to live where I want to live!
I believe smaller starter homes, villas and duplexes can be built according to our future development plan. Where are those developers? Let’s do that in a planned way and stop turning OP into something it’s not! Planned development works for everyone!
Lastly, we residents don’t want our tax dollars going to building luxury apartments as they have! Time to stop!
I think this is a fundamental question to where we’re heading as a city. I understand that some residents have concerns about wanting to protect the investment they’ve made in their homes and have concerns about some developments with respect to where they are placed, what they are and how they could impact existing property values. Ultimately, I think a couple things are critical for these discussions: we should try to abide by the existing plan and zoning wherever possible as this ensures fairness to current residents that the neighboring development does not come as a “surprise”. When we need to make zoning changes, it’s important to proactively solicit feedback from residents in the area who may be impacted.
This said – as the second largest city in the state, we need to provide affordable housing options. I’ve sat down with representatives from the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City and was extremely impressed by the innovative ideas they’ve seen be successful in other areas of the country. I’m also impressed with the redevelopment of some of the extended stay hotels that have been completed. We need attainable housing in Overland Park to provide a diverse workforce and allow families to live closer together – so this clearly is an item that we need to work to address.
This is a bigger issue than just City Council; however, we should be leading this effort. I fully support ordinance changes that allow developers to build cottage communities, townhomes and smaller homes on smaller lots which blend into the aesthetics of nearby neighborhoods and have the support of nearby neighbors.
We need to provide residents with more home-ownership opportunities; however, I’m not in support of providing developers with tax incentives to do so. The leaders who served before me helped Overland Park achieve numerous accolades which make our city attractive for so many reasons. Continuing to provide tax incentives is unnecessary, wasteful and should no longer be expected.
I’d like to see the City Council, Planning Commission, EDC and Chamber come together for several working sessions. By using the in-depth analysis of the current and future needs for affordable housing outlined in the 2021 Johnson County Housing Report, we can bridge the gaps in housing demand and supply.
Alignment of measurable goals and objectives across the city is the only way we will be successful in diversifying our housing portfolio. If we’re going to foster the ability for those who work in Overland Park to be able to live in Overland Park, we all need to be on the same team and rowing in the same direction.
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?