In discussing the possibility of changing regulations on boarding houses in Lawrence, city officials are taking the tried-and-true decision-making approach of setting out the pros and cons of the matter.
After an initial look at the proposal last Tuesday, city commissioners referred it back to the city-county planning commission for more study. That is reasonable course considering that, for the Oread Neighborhood, the cons of this plan seem to outweigh the pros.
The change would exempt homes in multi-family-zoned areas of the Oread neighborhood from limits that allow no more than four unrelated people to live in a single house. Oread, which lies mostly east of the Kansas University campus, has a high number of rental properties that serve the student population.
One of the key motivations behind the plan is to preserve large, older homes in the neighborhood by allowing landlords to increase the number of tenants and, therefore, the amount of income they receive from the property.
Among other pros is increasing housing density in the area, providing more housing in a highly desirable student location and providing incentives for landlords to better maintain their properties.
On the con side, however, are issues about parking, trash and noise, the possibility that houses will be enlarged in ways that aren’t compatible with the neighborhood and that expanded occupancy would lead to more “party houses” in the area. Another very valid concern of Oread residents is that increased income from these properties won’t necessarily translate into better upkeep by landlords. More people in the houses naturally will result in more wear and tear, which may or may not be addressed by landlords.
“Demolition by neglect” is a big problem in the neighborhood. Sometimes landlords are financially better off simply allowing houses to deteriorate to the point that demolition is the only reasonable course of action, razing the structures and using or selling the land as the site for a more profitable structure.
City officials acknowledge that, while they may be able to address concerns about inappropriate house additions, trash and parking, issues related to party houses and neglectful landlords may be tougher to manage.
Oread residents are justified in their concern that the proposed regulation changes may further erode owner-occupied housing in the neighborhood. “Saving” large older houses in the neighborhood by allowing them to be packed with even more rental residents seems like a risky proposition that city officials should study further before moving forward.