Skip to comments.Housing issues key in city race
Posted on 03/13/2005 6:44:20 AM PST by Mercat
Housing issues key in city race Candidates differ widely on affordability, planning, development
By Chad Lawhorn, Journal-World
Sunday, March 13, 2005
It could be argued that Lawrence is living in the worst of two worlds when it comes to affordable housing.
In the one world, Lawrence households earn an average $39,183 per year, which is about 5 percent less than the statewide average, according to the 2000 Census. But in the other world, Lawrence homes are among the highest priced in the state, with an average selling price of $180,526 in 2004, according to statistics from the Douglas County Appraiser's office.
It is not that way everywhere. Lawrence residents only have to look to the west and east to see differences. In Manhattan, the state's other university-oriented community, incomes also are lower than the state's average. Median household incomes there are about $34,000. But the difference is that the average selling price of a home in 2004 was $43,000 less than in Lawrence.
To the east in Johnson County, the world looks a lot different. Housing prices there are generally higher than in Lawrence. In Olathe, the average selling price was $195,758, and $246,943 in Overland Park. But median household incomes are more than $65,000 a year, or 62 percent above the statewide average.
Those are the numbers that the next batch of Lawrence city commissioners, who will be chosen by voters April 5, likely will spend a significant amount of time pondering. On the campaign trail, the five remaining candidates in the race spend a lot of time talking about the issue of affordable housing. But their approaches are varied.
Some say the community needs more building lots; some say older homes are the only source of affordable housing left. Still others say fees should be added to new development to help fund city efforts to support affordable housing. Some candidates even have expressed a willingness to discuss issues such as rent control.
There's even disagreement over how serious the problem is.
Tom Bracciano, the fourth-place finisher in the March 1 primary, said the situation was critical and the stakes for the community high.
"The risk is that we become a bedroom community," Bracciano said. "We will have people who leave town in the morning and come home at night, and when that happens you lose a lot of sense of community. I really wouldn't want to live in a bedroom community."
Incumbent David Schauner, the third-place finisher in the primary, isn't so sure the issue hasn't been manipulated by the city's building industry.
"I don't really have any evidence to tell me that Lawrence is any better or any worse than any other community," Schauner said. "This whole notion that we have an affordable housing problem is a misnomer.
"People who have an economic incentive to make money by building have an incentive to create the impression that we need to hurry up and build more because that is how they make more money."
Here's a look at what each of the five candidates has said about the housing issue.
Amyx, the top finisher in the March 1 primary, said the problem Lawrence faces is a tough one, in part, because the underlying cause is positive.
"The real problem is that we live in a real estate market that is extremely good," Amyx said.
Amyx said he believed part of the rising cost of homes had to do with the tight supply of building lots in the community.
"We can't control the housing market, but we can look at the areas that we have available to build in," Amyx said.
He said he would consider opening up new areas for residential development but also wanted to explore ways that the city could receive reasonable assurances that a certain number of the homes in new neighborhoods fell into a price range that the community considered affordable.
Like all the candidates, Amyx said the other way the community needed to address affordable housing was to attract higher paying jobs. He said the fact the city's median income was below the state average concerned him, and he didn't think it could be explained entirely by the fact that the figure includes a number of Kansas University students.
"The university is here, but we don't need to be hiding behind that," Amyx said. "When we see our median income is 5 percent lower than the state's, we have to figure out a way to get those wages up. There are not ifs, ands or buts about that."
Amyx said he generally thought the community's economic development efforts were headed in the right direction. He said he wanted to review the planning process to make sure it was fair and efficient in its treatment of businesses.
Bracciano frequently talks about the need to focus on older homes as a solution to the city's affordable housing issues. Bracciano said too many of the city's older homes were being used for rental properties instead of providing home ownership opportunities for younger families.
He said the city needed to focus on making infrastructure improvements in older neighborhoods in hopes that it would spur home ownership.
"I think we really have ignored some of our older areas of town, and I think that needs to end," Bracciano said.
Bracciano said he would like to review possible tax breaks and other incentives to spur private investment in the neighborhoods.
City officials in 2000 changed the city's zoning code to make it illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in a single family home. That was done as an effort to slow the conversion of single family homes into rentals. Bracciano said he didn't particularly like the change -- he said he would have preferred more of an incentive approach -- but would not make any attempts to alter the ordinance.
On the issue of attracting better jobs, Bracciano said he didn't want the city to fall into the trap of trying to attract only a certain type of job -- such as life science jobs. He also said he thought the city had some work to do in creating a reputation as a business-friendly community. He said he had heard from businesses who thought the city's planning process was too slow and the rules too often changed.
"There is a bit of a concern about our business climate," Bracciano said. "There is a question of how welcoming we are in Lawrence."
Carpenter, the fifth-place finisher in the primary, said past city officials had not done enough to study the issue.
For example, he said communities like New York City have instituted rent control as a way of battling affordability. He said it was possible the city's zoning code also could be structured to put a cap on the number of rental homes in a neighborhood.
"They may be ideas the community decides it doesn't want to pursue, but we ought to at least talk about them," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said he also wanted to discuss the ordinance that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in a single family home. He said there should be discussion about reducing the number to two unrelated people.
"It might level the playing field a little more," Carpenter said.
One strategy Carpenter is not interested in is the creation of large numbers of new building lots to keep up with the demand for housing.
"This is not a problem that we're going to grow our way out of," Carpenter said. "It is tied much more to the incomes available to people who work here."
On the economic development front, Carpenter said he didn't want the city to forget about small, locally owned businesses.
"I think local businesses pay better than chains because it seems like they have a greater investment in their employees," Carpenter said.
He said the city should study ideas to help small businesses, like creating a group health insurance plan that businesses could buy into. He also said the city may want to consider creating a forgivable loan program that could be used as an incentive to offer businesses that want to expand or relocate in Lawrence. He said a forgivable loan may be better than a tax abatement because it would protect the city's investment better if a company decided to leave the community.
Hack, the second place finisher in the primary who is seeking her second term on the commission, has been a strong supporter of a land trust concept for the community.
The concept would allow low-to-moderate income residents the chance to buy homes, but the land the homes sit on would be owned by a not-for-profit land trust organization. That could reduce the price of a home by $30,000 or more based on current land prices.
In exchange, the land trust would limit how much the home could be sold for in the future.
"What appeals to me is the system could keep those homes affordable for the long term," Hack said.
On the job creation front, Hack believes the city is poised for success.
"We're on the right course," Hack said. "We have a very aggressive economic development plan. We have people who are working hard to tell the Lawrence story. I think we have the fundamental pieces of the puzzle."
Hack, though, said she believed the city needed to look at its planning process to ensure that businesses feel comfortable working with it.
Schauner, who was elected to his first term on the commission two years ago, said the term affordable housing didn't properly characterize the issue the city was facing. He said every home built in Lawrence was affordable to someone. Instead, he thinks the community needs to focus on providing low-to-moderate income housing.
"I think the focus ought to be much more about raising incomes than lowering housing prices," Schauner said.
Schauner said the City Commission had little control over the factors that go into the price of a home. But he said he would support considering a new mortgage fee that would be charged to deeds filed in the county. The fee could be used to fund the city's housing trust fund or other programs to provide incentives for home ownership to low-to-moderate income residents.
"Home ownership probably is the greatest invention America ever came up with," Schauner said. "We need to create a package of tools that we can make available to the consuming public at that low-to-moderate income level."
On the economic development front, Schauner said the community needed to answer some basic questions.
"Do we agree on who we want to attract, and do we have a place to put them if we do attract them?" Schauner asked.
Schauner said he was concerned the community had a shortage of large lot industrial or business park locations. He's among a group of commissioners pushing for the designation of an area southeast of Lawrence to be used for a new business park. Others have suggested it should be used for residential development.
But Schauner said the community also should work on honing its economic development message. He said the program had improved in recent years but there needed to be a continued focus on attracting high-tech jobs to the area.
"I think the future of the city lies in how successful we are in utilizing our greatest asset: the university," Schauner said. "We have to do a better job of collaborating with the wealth-creation aspects of our community."
Read it all and I still do not know where this is located.
Opps, sorry. It's in Kansas. The site of the University of Kansas. I thought I had only posted it on the Kansas ping list but it ended up on news/issues. Lawrence is about 35-40 miles west of the KS/MO state line and about 50 miles from downtown KCMO.
New Hampshire has neither the cultural or racial diversity, and we are doing just fine. If anything, you could make an statistical case that racial and cultural diversity correlates with poverty, illegitimacy and economic stagnation.
"Lawrence is about 35-40 miles west of the KS/MO state line and about 50 miles from downtown KCMO."
There's your problem. It is now becoming a 'bedroom community' for Kansas City. Check the costs against the KC property values.
That's good to hear. Increasing supply has never led to lower prices. At least in this guy's reality...
"The free market takes care of rentals and homes are ALWAYS way too much."
The reason homes are too much is that people are willing to pay outrageous sums of money for homes. Once people stop doing that, then watch housing prices go down. This is why I rent in New York. I considered buying an apartment in Astor Place, but their cheapest units were going for $3.2M. There was no way in hell I was going to pay $3.2M for an apartment that hasn't even been built yet. And while the plans looked nice, they weren't $3.2M nice. Nonetheless, people bought them up. People need to quit buying at outragous prices.
"People need to quit buying at outrageous prices"
and how do you propose to stop that? It's a bit like the Time Magazine articles last week saying that women don't need to work 80 hour weeks but men need to stop working 80 hour weeks so that the inequality will even out.
Wow, impressive analysis. The logical direction for Lawrence to expand would be eastward, towards the major metro area of KCMO but, midwestern towns traditionally (I think it's a prevailing wind thing) expand south and west. Also, east of town is largely flood plane and, a large chunk of it is tied up in political correctness surrounding the Haskell Indian College which claims that it's sacred ground. This last issue has kept the K-10 by pass from happening which has also stunted growth. Since most of the Haskell students are now getting their degrees from KU, I suggest turning that facility into a casino and I think that would salve the concerns about sacred dancing grounds etc. although I hate casinos.
"and how do you propose to stop that?"
I don't think it can be stopped. It needs to stop, but it won't.
"Rent control in New York, for example, discriminates against younger (and often poorer) families and in favor of long-established, old renters. Requiring "affordable" units only increases the price of "unaffordable" units."
I got a better one for you. I rented my apartment back when I was in law school before the lower east side was cool. It was cheaper than the law dorms at NYU and within walking distance. It was also rent stabilized. 9 years later, I still live in the same one bedroom apartment. I am a senior corporate litigator at a major firm (and made a hell of a lot of money last year). The lower east side is now trendy and rents have spiked.
I pay $1350/month thanks to the rent stabilization laws - up from the $800/month I originally paid. The rent stabilization laws were not intended to subsidize cheap rent for lawyers and investment bankers. But there you have it. And yes, I think the rent laws shoud be repealed, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to continue to take advantage of them while they exist.
"affordable housing." is housing whose cost has been shifted to other people to pay.
For example, a city in my county requires 30% of a housing development to be "affordable" or sell at below market prices. So the developer does a couple of things to accomplish this. First, he applies to for a greater density in the development, for example, he may have been planning to build 6 single family homes, now he'll build 10 or 12 on much smaller lots. He may opt to put in duplexes or quadraplexes in the place of some of the houses, so more people can live on the same acreage. The county or city will usually give the developer some kind of subsidy, or tax break for building these units, or they might let him keep a couple for rental income. Then, he calclulates the cost increases on the single family home that will cover the reduced price home. This immediately creates a price bubble for the homes that are on the "free market". The homes with the reduced price cannot be sold to just anyone. Usually a government agency or NGO decides who gets to buy the cost shifted homes, or live in them.
Because the remaining homes on the free market have to cover the costs of the rest of the development, and that includes government mandated parks, open space, community education centers etc, the cost of the free market homes skyrocket.
The upshot is that the price of single family homes purchased on the freemarket goes through the roof, and the number of government controlled housing units shift upward dramatically. The free market pretty much doesn't exist anymore in a lot of housing markets and the single family home is soon to be only something the very wealthy can aspire too, because they will be the only ones who can pay for everyone else's housing as well as their own. The trouble is, most people don't realize why they are paying so much for their homes, and if they did, they'd probably want to choose the person to live in the home they are subsidizing rather than let the government do it.
Well, it's a bad idea (in general) to build housing in a floodplain, and I'd support zoning regulations to prohibit it (if the restriction is reasonable; that is, if most available land isn't so restricted). That land could be put to better use in agriculture or as a public park. I don't live in Lawrence, so I'm not terribly sure if commuting to Kansas City is particularly practical. But the solution to the housing "crisis" is to build much more housing somewhere.
"City officials in 2000 changed the city's zoning code to make it illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in a single family home."
Then you state:
"Now they're outlawed smoking..."
Wow, does not any "public official" in Lawrence, Ks care about or even have read the Kansas state constitution?
§ 1. Equal rights. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
§ 20. Powers retained by people. This enumeration of rights shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the people; and all powers not herein delegated remain with the people.
It is obvious that it is part of the concept and the basis of "liberty" and of rights "retained by the people" for private property owners to decide how many unrelated people will live on their property, whether they will pay rent and if they will smoke cigarettes are not.
These ordinances are blatantly and unambigously unconstitutional.
If I was a Lawrence, Ks resident I would be all over the city commission to revoke these ordnances immediately or suffer the consequences of:
§ 18. Justice without delay. All persons, for injuries suffered in person, reputation or property, shall have remedy by due course of law, and justice administered without delay.
Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991) State officers (public officials) may be held personally liable for damages based upon actions taken in their official capacities.
Soldal v. Cook County, 506 U.S. 56 (1992) State or local officials who stand by or protect an unlawful eviction or seizure are liable for damages under 42 USC 1983.
University town equals socialist/communist.
I didn't write this to you.
Housing was ALWAYS more than an ordinary blue collar could afford. Houses/property were always expensive; that is life. That's why is has ALWAYS been the "American dream."
Making the taxpayer pay for someone's "dream" isn't fair. Folks gotta go out and make their own dream come true.
I didn't write this, but it's true.
Property values have gone through the roof in the desirable places to live. That is, California, for example. Prices are still relatively cheap in the less desirable places....COLD weather places.....to live.
Those who LIVE in cold places can't afford them because their wages are low, but the California folks have their PICK of cold places to buy in. Retired folks (as low as 55 years old) CAN buy homes......if they are willing to leave California and move to less friendly climates.
I went to a planning department meeting in my county. The county was about to approve a cost shifted housing development on county owned land given to an NGO to manage. There were people from a pressure group giving testimony about cost shifted housing. Several were retirees from Texas who wanted to move to California and live on the coast, therefore they wanted the government to provide them with low cost(to them) housing. They got it.
So the people working in this county, especially the younger people starting families get hosed because they cannot afford to compete with the government when it comes to housing purchases,and they end up subsidizing these retirees homes through taxes and cost shifint,jeopardizing their own ability to purchase themselves.
So the people working in this county, especially the younger people starting families get hosed because they cannot afford to compete with the government when it comes to housing purchases,and they end up subsidizing these retirees homes through taxes and cost shifint,jeopardizing their own ability to purchase themselves
Well, that sucks big time.
This action is an unconstitutional usurpation of rights by the government. The government must grant equal rights, not special rights to seniors or anyone else. This also shows how the government intereference in the free market hurts everybody, because it violates the right to equal protection, and also sets up a sort of command economy in the housing market. The government commands cost shifted housing be built, then the next thing you know thats the only kind of housing they will permit to be built.
Its just wrong and very unAmerican.