City Housing Authority Asks City Council To Consider Incentives For Developing Affordable Housing

By Leilani Haywood
Tribune Reporter

The Lee’s Summit Housing Authority asked the City Council at its May 10, 2108 work session committee hearing to consider incentives for developers to incorporate affordable housing. The meeting was led by Mayor Bill Baird and Mayor Pro Tem Beto Lopez with Councilmembers Rob Binney, Bob Johnson, Trish Carlyle, Fred DeMoro, Phyllis Edson and Craig Faith. Councilmember Diane Forte was absent from the meeting.

Darren Taylor, executive director of the LS Housing Authority, said that the city needs to develop 100 additional units of affordable housing and a comprehensive study needs to be conducted. The housing authority has 1,700 households on its waiting list and with the average rent at $1,000 per month in Lee’s Summit, those who earn under $10 an hour can’t afford to live in the city.
Dr. Syrtiller M. Kabat, a board member of the housing authority, gave an overview of the housing cost hardship of low-income residents.

“If a household has to spend more than 30 percent of its income on housing then this is high housing cost hardship,” said Dr. Kabat.” Roughly half of all renters in Lee’s Summit are paying high housing cost hardship. If you look at the poorest of households with income under $20,000, 95 percent of them are suffering from high cost hardship. This means they don’t have enough money for food, clothing and medicine.”

Dr. Kabat said much of the problem is “price mismatch” with the average rent in Lee’s Summit at $1,000 per month. Taylor said a resident needs to earn $48,000 a year to be able to afford to pay the average rent in Lee’s Summit. Eighty percent of the working poor suffer from housing hardship.

Taylor stated in his presentation that the housing authority would like to develop 300 to 500 rental units that allow more housing options for office workers, healthcare workers, seniors, and other residents as well as create a zoning and land use provisions that encourages development of multi-family communities with a variety of rental options. He added that the housing authority wants to seek partnerships with the private sector to leverage available resources to meet identified community needs.

Emmet Pierson, the chairman of the LS Housing Authority Commission has been a developer for over 25 years and proponent of mixed use residential development. He discussed the possibility of encouraging developers to set aside a number of units for affordable housing.

“I have a project right now we’re doing market rate, affordable housing and finishing up project on Beacon Hill which was covered in the Kansas City Star,” he said.  “We have folk coming back to build $500,000 to $700,000 homes within that mixed income project at market rate. There is affordable housing surrounded by $500,00 to $700,000 homes.”

Pierson said this residential development strategy was possible to implement in Lee’s Summit. “Depends on how aggressive the housing authority is with the private market with your assistance we can start making some differences. We’re always going to look at our bottom line, he said. “The key is going to be for the housing authority to show the developer we can still give you your spread that makes it worthwhile for you which means bring in vouchers or low interest money to the table or funds from philanthropic foundations to buy down the profit margin developers need.”

Mayor Pro Tem Lopez said developers downtown add other features such as commercial components like new market tax credits help subsidize shortfalls from residential components. “It’s a whole different group of incentives make these projects work,” Johnson said. He was concerned about the subsidies required for the project.

Pierson responded that residents in affordable housing pay their taxes as well. Councilmember Binney asked Pierson and Taylor if they were asking the city to incentivize residential development. “I’m trying to understand mixed housing development,” Binney said. “Is this a request to the city to incentivize development. I hear the social engineering in my head I can understand the need for this in our society.”

Taylor responded to Binney that he is asking City Council to be open to inclusionary zoning policies. “These policies incorporate everything we’ve talked about provide incentives to developers set aside a certain number of units to make them affordable,” he said. Binney responded that if the city did that for low-income housing, what would stop a developer of $10 million homes from asking for incentives.

Mayor Baird said, “I can interject here. I’ve sat here and watched our housing authority. It has been here 50 years and helps very important people. I don’t want people treated here with a combative attitude and cynical attitude. These are volunteers are sitting out here. This is a presentation, this is not a mandate. They are educating us and we’re having a conversation. We need to listen and if we don’t agree then let them go.”