Controversial housing ordinance passed in KCMO Council despite protest
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A loud protest in the middle of a Kansas City Council vote Thursday failed to stop the vote.
Protestors held signs in silence for hours, waiting for the measure to come up for debate and vote.
The acts of civil disobedience from a group called KC Tenants began the moment the first yes vote was cast at about 5:30 p.m.
A woman ran up from the audience.
“I have something to say,” she shouted.
“Keep calling the roll,” the mayor said.
“How dare you!” she yelled.
The voting continued, though it was hard to hear, as police forced the woman out of council chambers.
Once the vote was over, a sit-in began with protestors chanting, “The rent is too d--- high.”
There were other items on the agenda, but the mayor adjourned the meeting, leaving the rest to be discussed at the next meeting.
The ordinance that sparked the outrage involves restrictions on developers who want to get city tax incentives for construction of apartments with 12 units or more.
The new ordinance, like a previous one, requires that 20% of the units be set aside for below-market rents. The new ordinance, however, changed the formula for the maximum rent in that portion of the units.
The new figure is $1,172/month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Opponents say nearly $1,200/month is hardly affordable for people in many job categories.
“I’m opposed to this ordinance because I can’t afford this ordinance. Like, if I have to move into a place that’s built on this affordability criteria, I won’t be able to afford to live there,” said KC Tenants member Kaylove Edwards. “For me, in my opinion, about $500, maybe $600, for a one bedroom is what would be appropriate.”
Most of the city council debate took place during a hearing in committee the day before the vote of the full council.
Supporters of the ordinance said the previous version with lower rent caps brought no interest from developers, even with incentives. They said at least this creates some options in the middle.
“We’re not building the low end, we’re not building the median end, and all we’re building is high end right now. We need to do more in Kansas City. That’s what these proposals are about,” said Mayor Quinton Lucas, who voted in favor of the new ordinance. “We have a mix where we get the low income in from our own Housing Trust Fund, so the middle end is going to be key for us to produce even more.”
The no votes came from Councilmembers Bough, Bunch, Ellington and Hall.
At Thursday’s meeting, Councilwoman Melissa Robinson clarified before the vote that she was voting yes because she wanted to see more middle income housing in her district on the city’s impoverished east side. She also noted that the Housing Trust Fund helps address the need for rent in the lower tier.
“We have many tools in our toolbox,” she said. “This will address the decline in housing in the Third District.”
Councilman Brandon Ellington, who represents the same district and has been a vocal opponent of the changes, pointed out that nothing in the ordinance ties it to zip codes or census tracts. He scoffed at the idea that developers would focus on the east side. He also took issue with the formula being based on regional median income.
“We’re talking about median income in the city of Kansas City at $55,000. Black folks are making $25,000 to $30,000. Poor white folks is making $30,000,” he said of the segment of the city where help is most needed.
“There’s a lot of Black people who make more and would love to live in the third district but there’s no housing available to them,” Robinson fired back.
The ordinance uses the Housing and Urban Development’s area median income (AMI) figures for the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.
The new ordinance sets maximum rates for 20% of the units at what HUD considers Fair Market Rent for people making 60% of AMI.
The previous ordinance set aside 10% of units for people making 70% of AMI (labeled as “affordable) and 10% of the units for people making 30% of AMI (labeled as “very affordable”).
KC Tenants organizer Gabe Coppage said he was disappointed in the outcome of the vote, but he contended the protest was not a failure.
“I do still think the action was effective and necessary. You know, we were able to bring the crisis to its creator,” Coppage said. “City Council brought up this policy and it does not actually help us at all. It helps developers and it protects buildings, but it does not protect tenants in Kansas City like they claim it does.”
Financing the Housing Trust Fund will be on the ballot in November. The city is seeking to borrow $50 million for it by issuing bonds and needs voter approval to do that.
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