‘Monumental’: KC Council will give millions to housing trust fund instead of developer

Tammy Ljungblad/tljungblad@kcstar.com
·4 min read

The Kansas City Council on Thursday amended a controversial plan that would have handed millions to a developer, deciding instead to put the money into the city’s trust fund to finance affordable housing.

The original measure, co-sponsored by Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, District 4 at-large, involved a funding agreement between the city and the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority to work with Chicago-based Mac Properties to build a multi-million dollar project along Armour Boulevard and Main Street.

The proposal includes 385 units, with 10% to be rented to those with an income at or below 60% of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development median family income and another 10% at or below 30% of the median family income. That totals 77 units. The project would also include retail and office space.

The plan authorized the city manager to contribute a third of the surplus funds from a property tax abatement to the Rehabilitation Assistance for Midtown Properties, a program created by the city to help finance home repairs.

Under the changes approved Thursday, $10.5 million would be re-directed to the Housing Trust Fund. The dollars would come out of the city’s share of the surplus funds from the Midtown Redevelopment Tax Increment Financing Plan, according to the funding agreement.

That redevelopment plan expires in April 2023. After that point, the city and other jurisdictions will collect full property and sales taxes, according to the ordinance.

Shields opposed the amendment, saying that while she supports the Housing Trust Fund, she wanted to ensure that the 77 new housing units would be created more quickly than they would by going through the fund.

“We have a developer that has made tremendous improvements in the Midtown area,” Shields said, to laughter from the KC Tenants group.

Councilman Eric Bunch, District 4, voted in favor of the amendment, saying he had heard from hundreds of constituents, including dozens of Mac residents, and that it should “be evaluated on a level playing field.” He said the developer was essentially asking for a “cash infusion.”

“We don’t know that it’s actually needed because we haven’t seen the analysis,” Bunch said.

He added that while he likes the project and wants to see more development, the city needs to be consistent with policy.

“We say we want affordable housing but we’re not delivering on it,” Bunch said.

The Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee, chaired by Shields, approved the original legislation on Wednesday by a 3-2 vote. Councilwomen Melissa Robinson and Ryana Parks-Shaw voted against it.

Parks-Shaw said Thursday she was concerned about the precedent the council would be setting.

“We know that we have an affordable housing crisis in our city,” Parks-Shaw said.

Tenants unions, neighbors fight back

Thursday’s vote was a major victory for KC Tenants, the citywide tenant union, which lobbied heavily for the changes.

“Truly, the masks could not hold the smiles back,” said Briana Van Deusen, a member of KC Tenants and the Midtown Tenants Union. “It’s incredibly exciting. ... And so to see the fact that the city and its people are being raised up rather than the developer is monumental.”

At a committee hearing in December, other neighbors shared stories of gentrification in Midtown, including one small business owner saying the housing situation has driven away customers.

Mac Properties director of community development Peter Cassel said then that the company is committed to Kansas City, even though they’re based in Chicago.

“We choose to follow council and by extension all of Kansas City to create affordable housing,” Cassel said. “We take our responsibility as stewards of our apartments seriously … we’ve always worked to provide the best housing possible.”

Parks-Shaw said after Thursday’s meeting that the amended ordinance meant they were able to address the concerns of their constituents.

“To me, I believe that this showed that we are committed to creating affordable housing throughout, transformational affordable housing,” Parks-Shaw, District 5, said. “This is one step closer to us being able to do that.”

Councilman Kevin O’Neill, District 1 at-large, said the council keeps talking about low income housing, but lets the developers decide where to go.

“We’re talking about $10 million that are going into low income housing. “I would rather see that money go into a fund that actually directs where the housing is needed, not where developers want to do.”

On Thursday, a group of leaders with KC Tenants were in the council chambers to listen to the vote. Councilmembers Shields, Heather Hall and Teresa Loar voted against the amended ordinance. After the amendment was passed, the union leaders were thrilled.

“I’m hoping this is just precedent setting,” Van Deusen told The Star. “You’ve got that money now going city wide rather than just staying in Midtown for these developers and so that in and of itself is huge, that not just one part of the city is going to be impacted, the entire city will be impacted.”

After the council meeting, Van Deusen led a group of about 15 people outside in chanting “I believe that we just won.”

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