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Zoning Proposals Explained: How Proposed Changes Expand Individual Owner Rights to Make Decisions About Their Own Property and Increase Affordability, Attainability, and Diversity of Housing Stock.

The affordable housing recommendations suggest areas for council, staff, and the city planning commission to research possible new forms of housing that can be placed in existing zoning districts (R-1A, R-1B, R-2, etc.). The overarching idea behind these suggestions is that we must give the market alternative housing unit options so that it can build new housing at a more attainable price. This is generally housing that would be smaller or closer together. Some suggestions for single-family districts are smaller lot sizes (when a home on large lot is torn down, it could be replaced by two smaller houses) or accessory dwelling units (ADUs, which are sometimes known as granny flats, tiny homes, mother-in-law suites, etc.). ADUs can be added to an existing property to house additional family members or for potential rental income. Both of these suggestions have been shown to strengthen neighborhoods where they have been implemented. How the particulars might look in PV, if at all, is up to the planning commission and council’s research along with public input regarding concerns and feedback about how to place these buildings in neighborhoods.

The recommendations also include changes to duplex zones (R-2) to allow triplexes or quadplexes, though currently, only about four acres of R-2 zoning exists in Prairie Village. If implemented by the council and the planning commission after research and investigation, these suggestions would allow multi-unit homes in these districts to house more people in the future.

Suggested changes to apartment (R-3) zones would enable our aging apartment stock to be economically rebuilt with newer, more modern units. Similar updates for (R-4) condos/row homes are suggested as well. The suggestions also encourage the planning commission to investigate mixed-use districts or allow housing units to appear in commercial districts such as office buildings and shops.

This is all to find more space for housing. To bring more places “to the table” in Prairie Village.

The recommendations suggest that many of these suggested changes be “by-right.” By-right means that an owner of a property has a right to improve their property in line with city codes without a discretionary review or special permit. Current examples of by-right construction in PV include building a single-family home in R1, a duplex in an R2 zone, or a chicken coop in your backyard. It may require administrative review to be sure that code requirements are met, but there is no “discretionary review” wherein there would need to be specific action by the Planning Commission and/or Council to approve the construction of a building via a rezoning or a special use permit. Notable to this process is that every property within 200 feet can opt to object to a change that requires discretionary review. If enough people object, then the governing bodies that approve the project need 75% majority in favor. This is an onerous process, especially for small-scale, low-impact projects like ADUs and small homes in single-family neighborhoods.

All of these are suggestions made by the ad hoc housing committee for the planning commission to consider and research. No final action is on the table right now, and many public forums will be held to allow for resident feedback as formal recommendations clarify – and before they are voted upon.

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Prairie Village History: Overcoming Exclusionary Housing Policy

When Prairie Village was first designed and constructed as a planned community, it was done so on empty land with moderately-priced housing units. These were intended for veterans who’d returned from World War II and had re-entered the workforce with money in their pockets and families looking to put down roots. These homes were financed largely with mortgages that were subsidized by the GI Bill as a benefit to veterans. Affordable land, modest housing, and cheap money created a building bonanza across the country, and Prairie Village was a planned community right in the middle of it all.

The catch, however, was that GI Bill mortgages weren’t made equally available to Black veterans. Black neighborhoods were “redlined” or denied financial services such as 30-year mortgages that enabled white Americans to build generational wealth. Simultaneously, to “buttress” the value of Prairie Village homes, J.C. Nichols instituted racist deed restrictions to help “protect” his homeowners from a possible decline in value from Black families moving into the neighborhood. Homeowners felt secure from the risk of property value decline (a loss of their nest egg; damaging them economically) that would be represented by diversity in their neighborhoods. It also effectively prevented the practice of blockbusting in the city.

Thus, Prairie Village prospered on cheap money, continued access to educational benefits from the GI bill, and continued reinvestments from residents who had access to good jobs, good schools, and a solid tax base. Meanwhile, Black neighborhoods on the other side of State Line were declined these same benefits. The disparity between the wealth of white and Black households can be traced in part to the financial practices pertaining to the modern home financing systems that denied the 30-year mortgage to people of color. As the gap widened over generations, people of color today are less able to live in a place like Prairie Village because families here (which are, by and far, white) have prospered so much from rising property values and good educational amenities, neither of which are as readily available in historically Black portions of the city.

Redlining and home financing being made exclusively available to white residents prolonged overt, systemic racism, because the practices financially incentivized white people to keep Black people out of their neighborhoods out of fear for their home values.

Today, homes built by J.C. Nichols are aging. Some homes have been diligently maintained over the years, while others have not. As a result, we have faced a teardown bonanza. These houses must be replaced and, because of zoning restrictions, they can only be replaced with a single house. The economics of this process inevitably lead us to the result of hyper-gentrification we are seeing now. People who could afford homes in Prairie Village ten years ago no longer can. Teachers, firefighters, police, city workers, and workers who serve us in our shops, are all being priced out of our town.

This is all due to the way our zoning system was constructed. We can only build more and more expensive houses. In another housing lifecycle, we’ll be faced with the same problem. When the current rebuilds age out, what then do we replace them with? If zoning rules are not addressed and current trends continue, the likely answer will be consolidated lots and mansions. The rebuild craze also picks up speed over time as property values from large houses make all property values go up. Folks living with higher resulting property taxes on lower incomes become more incented to sell to a person who will replace the house with a more expensive one, and the process continues until all attainable housing stock is consumed, and then it begins anew.

Unsurprisingly we notice that people of color remain excluded from opportunity in Prairie Village, but so too are more and more working people. Systemic economic oppression affects everyone, not just people of color, even though the structural nature of racism makes socioeconomic ascension much harder for marginalized people and their communities.

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For more information, read the Shawnee Mission Post’s three-part series examining Johnson County’s history of racist housing policies and the impact those policies still have on our community today:

Read recent coverage of the proposals in the news:

A proposal to help with housing in Prairie Village is drawing vocal critics — and misinformation | KCUR 89.3 – NPR in Kansas City

Watch Councilperson Ian Graves give a presentation detailing affordable housing discussions in Prairie Village:

Read the policy on the city’s website:

Housing Policy │ City of Prairie Village

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