Council committee alters Kansas City mayor’s housing trust fund amid KC tenants protest

KC Tenants leader testified on Mayor Quinton Lucas’ housing trust fund proposal on Oct. 20, 2021.
·5 min read

A Kansas City Council committee on Wednesday approved changes to a housing trust fund ordinance a week after KC Tenants rallied outside the mayor’s office, calling for more input.

Mayor Quinton Lucas has proposed an ordinance which would, among other things, make the Housing and Community Development Department responsible for the housing trust fund and require all units using the funds to remain affordable for at least 20 years.

Changes introduced Wednesday direct City Manager Brian Platt to create an advisory board for the fund within the next 120 days and add social housing to the evaluation criteria for prioritized projects.

Policy director for the mayor AJ Herrmann said durint the committee meeting that the mayor’s office was open to alternative governance structures such as a board.

“It does not seem like there’s currently consensus on what that board’s power should be or who should serve on that board,” he said.

The city established its housing trust fund in December 2018 to help revitalize neighborhoods, develop housing and implement preservation projects. A sticking point has been who oversees distribution of money from the housing trust fund. KC tenants has demanded a seat at the table to ensure the fund benefits those most in need.

On Twitter, Lucas wrote that he appreciates the work of his policy director and the committee in “moving to full Council an ordinance ensuring our Housing Trust Fund aligns with HUD goals for truly affordable housing and creates more affordable units for KCMO.”

Leaders with KC Tenants, a group led by poor and working class tenants organizing for affordable and safe housing, testified against the mayor’s proposal, calling it a “developer’s slush fund.”

In May, the city allocated $12.5 million issued through federal COVID relief package to the fund. Those funds have to be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026. A third of that $12.5 million has been allocated to developments.

The mayor’s proposal

Herrmann said during the Wednesday meeting that progress on spending the funds has been slow because there was not a specific plan already in place. The mayor’s proposal, he said, provides specific changes.

Those include:

  • Places the administration of the housing trust fund under the Housing and Community Development Department with council oversight

  • Instructs the department to do a biannual request for proposals process to get applications to use the fund

  • Creates high level eligibility criteria for all projects funded through the trust fund

“We think it is important to put in place some basic parameters now to ensure city staff has some direction from the council and can begin allocating trust fund dollars to create needed affordable housing,” Herrmann said.

The eligibility criteria say the city will prioritize applications that maximize:

  • Number of units created per housing trust fund dollar invested;

  • Total number of months of affordability, with longer periods of guaranteed affordability given higher priority; and

  • Affordability threshold, with higher priority for projects at lower income levels.

It also sets a limit on how much of a percentage the city will contribute to a particular project.

Herrmann said a permanent source of funding is still needed. Long term funding, he said, will come from the city’s budgeting process.

The city also has to account for state laws requiring voters approve new revenue sources such as taxes, Herrmann said.

Councilman Brandon Ellington, District 3 at-large, criticized the lack of long term funding and the fact that it hasn’t already gone through the budgeting process, saying “I can’t take this seriously.”

Public testimony

Leaders with KC Tenants have called on Lucas to commit to establishing a governing board of poor and working class tenants, creating social housing, and defunding the police and taxing gentrifiers to provide continued funding for a housing trust fund as opposed to one-time investments from developers.

This summer, the organization unveiled its People’s Housing Trust Fund. Funding for that would be divested from sources including the police department and developers. And the proposed programs would protect tenants’ rights, keep them housed and build power.

On Wednesday, about 30 tenants gathered in the council chambers, snapping after each member shared their story or shared a story on behalf of someone who couldn’t attend.

One woman said listening to the committee made her realize they were thinking about developers, not Kansas City residents.

“I still have to live here. And I still deserve a right to affordable housing, not just for 20 years. If we set a minimum of 20 years, we’re saying 20 years works for us,” she said. “I ask you once again to vote no on this ordinance so we can once again talk about what it looks like to be for the people of Kansas City and not for the developers that are coming in.”

Jenay Manley, with KC Tenants, said after the committee that the group “spoke truth to power and were very clear about the things that we wanted.”

“And I think without those voices in the room, without us telling our stories, that wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

And while changes were made to the proposal Wednesday, Manley said it’s not enough.

“We need to create long-term sustainable change and we need to prioritize permanent affordable housing off the private market, but this is actually creating a bigger conversation that is important,” Manley said.

Christopher McKinney, community impact director for the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, spoke in favor of the proposal, calling it “vital,” to ensuring the funds are used as intended. He asked the committee to add a zoning board to represent different parts of the ecosystem of affordable housing as well as private, non government funding sources.

Councilwoman Andrea Bough said the council needs to listen more.

“This is our opportunity to do something real,” Bough said. “We are not doing enough, whether it’s in this ordinance or all the other policies.”

Bough, who represents District 6 at-large, pushed to raise the council’s bar.

“We talk about Maseratis for downtown baseball,” Bough later said. “We need a Maserati for affordable housing.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting