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City of Shawnee bans co-living rentals

Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 10:25 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2022 at 7:14 AM CDT
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SHAWNEE, Ks. (KCTV) - Shawnee has become the first Johnson County city to explicitly ban a growing type of housing.

You might have heard of co-living, which involves a house configured with separate locked bedrooms and shared common space, a concept that took off on the West Coast amidst sky-rocketing rents.

Co-living came to the metro in 2018 and received praise for creating affordable housing options. Then it came to Shawnee and riled neighbors.

A lot of local cities have focused their efforts on regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb’s, but this is the first regulation that calls out co-living by name.

A large home on Hallet Street has been getting the stink eye from neighbors for months. They remember when it went into foreclosure as a 4-bedroom, 3-bath home. Then they started seeing workers. They said the workers told them they were reconfiguring it to 7 bedrooms, which led them to start asking more questions.

The company behind the project is HomeRoom, founded in 2018 by a Prairie Village man, which has expanded to include six metro areas across the nation.

Generally, the company gets investors to buy properties, which HomeRoom then leases and sublets as individual rooms with shared common areas, maid and garden services. Some rents are as low as $350 per month.

The concerns have been raised at city meetings for months, beginning with the planning commission, then with the city council. The council tweaked the charges recommended by the planning commission. One such change was to include the phrase co-living in the zoning rules rather than change a previously defined category to include the circumstances of co-living. Monday, the council voted unanimously to pass the revised changes.

Coincidentally, at the same meeting, before the zoning changes come up for a vote, the council also heard a separate presentation on a Johnson County housing study, which showed a lack of affordable rental properties in Shawnee.

“In Shawnee, almost 50% of renters are spending 30% or more of their income on housing. That’s a high across the county,” Kristy Baughman, the director of education and planning for United Community Services of Johnson County, told the council.

To be exact, she reported that 48% of renters in Shawnee spend more than 30% of their income on housing. That’s compared to 14% of homeowners who spend that much.

The Shawnee zoning changes specify that “Co-Living Groups” are prohibited in all residential districts.

“It is every district including our residential high-rise apartment district,” Shawnee Community Development Director Doug Allmon clarified for the council.

The zoning ordinance defines a “Co-Living Group” as four or more unrelated adults living together.

Though the change involves the number of renters, one resident took issue with how she thought renters as a whole were portrayed during the months-long debate.

“People who rent their homes or live in multi-family housing are human beings. They live, work and pay taxes here in Shawnee,” said Shawnee resident Alex Welch. “This governing body exists to represent them and their interests too, not solely to protect property values. I live in a townhome myself, and it makes me feel extremely unwelcome when I hear these comments about my family and people like us and complaints that people like me might live next to a respectable single-family neighborhood. My home is not an eyesore and I am not a liability.”

Before the council even passed its new zoning rules, HomeRoom changed its listing for the Hallet Street home to a whole-house rental.

The other Shawnee property affiliated with Homeroom, which was initially meant for four tenants, is now for three.

A spokeswoman for the company wrote to us before the vote, saying the company is dialing back on any efforts to obtain more property there.

“We’ve generally focused our expansion efforts on the rest of the US this year, getting HomeRoom into new markets versus continuing to just focus on our existing ones,” wrote Jordan Barnes, Vice President of Brand & Communications at HomeRoom. “We’re not ‘leaving Shawnee,’ however we see far greater potential in other cities and are going to put our focus there. We’re disappointed in the likely outcome of tonight’s hearing of course, given Kansas [is] dear and true to our hearts, but it allows us to put resource[s] into cities that are welcoming/championing innovation and growth, versus challenging it.”

The city specifically names Co-Living Groups as different from Group Homes for people with disabilities, which are allowed.

Barnes said HomeRoom currently has 152 homes nationwide, with 1,000 tenants since its inception. Their goal is to expand to 50,000 tenants in the next two years.

Tracy Thomas, a former member of the Shawnee City Council, was one of the residents concerned about the housing trend moving into Shawnee. She and others were concerned it could lead to a dramatic influx in renters, more people parking on the street, and shifts in home values.

“Co-living sounds wonderful at first, but you have this juxtaposition of people who care about their homes and people who don’t,” Thomas said.

However, advocates for affordable housing take a different view of the practice.

Stacy Johnson-Cosby, a realtor and President of the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance, said she was disappointed to hear about Shawnee’s decision.

She encouraged cities to keep an open mind about alternative forms of housing.

“Renters want to live in good neighborhoods just like everyone else,” she said. “Co-living gives people [and young professionals] the opportunity . . . to set roots in a community they can’t otherwise afford. It’s also helpful for seniors to stay in their homes longer. It’s just a short-sighted decision that they chose and we lost affordable spaces.”