What do the affordable housing recommendations actually say, and why?

The Ad Hoc Housing Committee was a committee formed to provide recommendations on affordable housing options to the city council and the planning commission. The committee aimed to present recommendations that would increase the affordability and accessibility of housing stock, and therefore allow a broader range of people to access housing in the city.

The recommendations provided are centered on adjusting zoning to curb the rising cost of housing in Prairie Village. Right now, new construction in Prairie Village is often limited to extremely high-priced homes, because to build a new house, an old house must be purchased, torn down, rebuilt, and sold at an industry-acceptable profit margin. That means only high-dollar, large homes can turn a profit, partially because restrictive zoning laws require that only a single house can be built on the lots being sold.

The affordable housing recommendations suggest ways for council, staff, and the city planning commission to research possible new forms of housing that can be constructed at more attainable pricing. This is generally housing that would be smaller or closer together. Some suggestions include smaller lot sizes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). To learn more about the details about how the recommendations tackle this goal, click here. To read more on the city’s website, click here.

The particulars in Prairie Village are up to the planning commission, which is currently researching proposals. Then, it will bring those proposals up for feedback-gathering, public discussion, and presentation to the council.

What changes were made to the recommendations, and why?

On Oct. 3, the city council amended the recommendations sent to the planning commission because some residents took “multi-unit houses” to mean that apartments would be built in single-family neighborhoods “by-right.” The wording was cleaned up to exclude multi-unit houses to satisfy concerned residents, and a motion to amend passed unanimously.

It is, however, important to note that the planning commission has final say and interpretation over what recommendations it brings forth to the council for discussion, feedback, and voting.

What does this have to do with equity and diversity, or with the city’s history of redlining and racist deed covenants?

When Prairie Village was developed by J.C. Nichols, Black people were excluded from buying homes by racist deed covenants and redlining. This financially incentivized white people to keep non-white people out of their neighborhoods. The economic gap between people of color and white people in this country widened over generations due to the structural, lasting effects of slavery and racism (inequity in terms of generational wealth, educational access, and access to high-paying jobs). Now, people of color, working class people, and other marginalized people are priced out of Prairie Village. Teachers, firefighters, police, city workers, workers who serve us in our shops, are all being priced out of our town at breakneck speed. The affordable housing proposals are an attempt to break this cycle. We must begin to change how Prairie Village responds to cycles of inequity if we hope to avert the conclusion of a completely priced out community.

What does “by-right” mean?

By-right, also as use-by-right, is the type of zoning currently used in Prairie Village. By-right means that property owners have the right to use their property within the city’s zoning codes without additional input. Examples of existing by-right use includes: the right to build a single family home on a single-family lot, building a shed, or building an accessory building (although, currently, not for living in). As long as you make these changes within city zoning codes, any necessary permitting, potential site plans, etc. you have the right to make changes to your own property.

“By right” is different from property uses not granted by zoning codes. For these other types of use, owners must request special-use permits or rezoning and submit to discretionary review. In this process, the planning commission and potentially the city council, must approve the owner’s application. The process also requires neighbors within a certain distance (usually 200 feet) to give feedback and potentially object to proposed special use or rezoning. If 20% of neighbors within the distance object, governing bodies must approve special-use or rezoning with a 75% vote.

The new affordable housing proposals include expansion of “by-right” use, allowing property owners to make more decisions about their own property with less hurdles. If, for instance, a property owner wanted to build an ADU to house family members or earn extra income by renting, they would no longer need special-use review and could make their own decisions about their own property.

How would this affect my rights over my own property?

Adding more and expanded allowed uses under existing zoning district types increases the rights of existing property owners to make decisions about their own property and land. These uses would still be regulated by zoning codes, which would be updated to give additional guidance and controls on the sizes, shapes, and forms of what new uses are allowed by-right.

Would this open the door to developers building more unattainable, expensive housing in our neighborhoods?

The recommendations for single family zoning districts are intended to allow existing owners to improve their own land by right and to allow developers an avenue to produce smaller detached homes that would be more attainable than the new homes currently being built in Prairie Village.

Unattainable, expensive housing is already allowed by-right in our residential zoning districts. Large expensive homes can be built without any discretionary oversight. The proposals in the Prairie Village Ad Hoc Housing Committee’s recommendations focus on two principal things for single family neighborhoods. The first is accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These are dwelling units that could be attached or detached to the primary residence on a property. They could be used to house a family member, friend, or rented to a renter. The second recommendation seeks to examine smaller lot single family houses. Allowing smaller lot detached housing allows new homes to be built, but at a lower price. These homes would be smaller due to being on a smaller lot (and still subjected to greenspace requirements). Instead of tearing down a home and replacing it with a large home, in this situation a home could be torn down and replaced with smaller homes that are more attainable and in line with the neighborhood scale.

Is there anything under consideration to retain current housing stock?

Yes. There are a number of proposals under consideration by the city council including:

  • Expansion of the city’s exterior grant program to potentially include interior improvements to maintain a home’s structural integrity.
  • Creation of a tax abatement program targeting residents who are at-risk of displacement due to increased property value and resulting increases in property taxes.
  • Exploring existing tools that may be available at the county, state and federal level that can support the needs of residents and support maintenance of existing housing stock.

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