Your Turn: Unaffordable housing can be solved with pennies

September 26, 2017


We have the opportunity to vote yes Nov. 7, and thereby largely solve the severe, systemic shortage of affordable housing in our community. A yes vote to Item 3 would give a 0.05 percent (one penny for every $20 spent) through a reallocation sales tax for the affordable housing trust fund from 2019 through 2029. This is a repurposing of an existing sales tax, not a new one.

To put this sales tax into perspective, a family of four who spends $250 a week on groceries would contribute $6.50 a year of their food bill to affordable housing through this tax reallocation. It is unjust that our state taxes food, but in directing at least some of it toward another basic need, housing, we would help relieve a common household burden.

If the citizens of Lawrence will vote yes for affordable housing, we can make it possible for the people who work in Lawrence to also afford to live here. We would allow women who suffer domestic violence to have a safe place to go instead of back to their abuser (on average, seven times). We would help families living in crisis every day, wondering if they will be evicted, and the children who sleep in cars and tents and couch surf, to have a safe, affordable place to call home. We have met these people. Our hearts break that we comfortably debate the need and the process, while our friends, our neighbors and our citizens suffer. The most recent Housing and Urban Development numbers report that one in five households in Douglas County pay 50 percent or more of their income for housing. This means our neighbors must choose between housing and food and medicine.

The Journal-World published an irresponsible headline Sept. 18 that reads “City Has No Clear Affordable Housing Strategy,” which is inaccurate. The city has wisely followed the experience of some 550 other communities who have successfully established an affordable housing trust fund and set up an advisory board to responsibly oversee its use. Service providers who do affordable housing, along with other stakeholders and city and county officials guide the process. This makes the spending of the trust fund money public and transparent to the community. The Affordable Housing Advisory Board has emphasized permanently affordable housing for those earning less than 60 percent of the median income. This is how our severe housing shortage can be alleviated and not continue to grow even closer toward a crisis.

The public process the city has put into place will ensure the money is invested for the benefit of the people needing affordability, not the profitability of individual interests. This is a good strategy indeed.

Money put into the trust fund will be leveraged four to six times through grants and partnerships. This was done with the initial $100,000 the city allocated to the fund in 2015. Four-hundred thousand dollars of leveraging provided three permanent homes in partnership with Family Promise, Habitat for Humanity and Tenants to Homeowners. Three permanent homes for only $100,000 in a city where the average cost of a single house is almost twice that amount is a powerful start. A yes vote for Question 3 on Nov. 7 would raise more than $10 Million over 10 years.

A Journal-World editorial Sept. 19 erroneously concludes that the current strategy “is a recipe for certain failure.” While we are waiting on an update of information, no one seriously believes the problem that has gone unfunded for 25 years has miraculously solved itself. We must get honest about the scale of funding needed in order to show we are serious about a solution. The only certainty of failure here is not funding affordable housing.

Over the past 25 years this community has done two studies to better define the problem and outline solutions. Over the past 25 years, the problem has steadily grown. If we don’t vote yes in November, we could spend 25 more years debating the details – rent increases due to KU, lack of quality jobs, being land-locked between two rivers ... While we keep talking, children, seniors and families keep suffering.

— Sara Taliaferro, Dennis Constance, Mary Newberg-Gale, Katie Sears, Steve Ozark – Justice Matters Affordable Housing Steering Committee


RJ Johnson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I will vote no. We do not want Lawrence turning into Topeka!

Chris Anderson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I am just starting to get informed on this issue, but this essay raises more questions for me than it does answers.

Foremost, it seems highly unlikely that this sales tax commitment will "largely solve the severe, systemic shortage of affordable housing in our community." Address, help, reduce the shortage -- perhaps yes, but "largely solve"? Not likely.

Note that if every Lawrence household paid the seemingly trivial $6.50 per year in extra tax on their groceries that would generate only $32.50 per year to give back to each of the "one in five households ... that pay 50% or more of their income for housing." Ratchet that annual grocery bill up to the median household income for Lawrence and assume it's all spent on taxable transactions and it still would add up to less than $125/year for the one-in-five housing-cost-stressed households. Target just the worst off 10% of households, and that still sums to $250/year. How could such an amount "largely solve" anything?

My mind is not made up on this issue. But this essay did not persuade me. Instead, it made me more sympathetic to the view expressed in the earlier LJW editorial which suggested that this tax is not yet connected to a clear strategy.

Bob Smith 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I'll look under the couch cushions & see how much I have to voluntarily contribute.

Melinda Henderson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

"We have the opportunity to vote yes Nov. 7, and thereby largely solve the severe, systemic shortage of affordable housing in our community."

Please define "largely solve" and show your math how we would arrive there in ten years.

Thank you.

David Reynolds 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I will not debate the need, I will debate the solution. The proposed solution via increased sales taxes only sustains the problem into perpetuity versus working toward eliminating the problem.

The reasoning goes like this: Give a hungry man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach the man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

The real solution to the problem of affordable housing or affordable anything is good paying jobs & job training.

We have the Peaslee Tech Center, what we don't have is a concerted effort to provide jobs in this community.

Where are the resources to promote Kansas, Lawrence, etc.

We developed an industrial park east of town & it remains empty while we are waiting on one company to decide if they will come. Yet our city complains about incentives. Yet we just gave away a million dollars for one bedroom for an affordable house...Really? Where are our priorities?

I realize we have efforts being made by the Chamber & I applaud them. Where is the aggressive action by the city and county to solicit & entice business to town?

In Lawrence we are taxed, taxed & more taxes on wants. Do we really need to spend our scarce dollars on a biking/walking path all around town versus recruiting a strong manufacturing company?

Lawrence needs to wake up & grow up and realize we live in a very competitive world. We need to do some very serious planning and decide our real needs and how we are going to pay for them.

Always deciding we can just demand builders provide a certain percent affordable housing in each new development or increasing sales taxes in fact defeats the purpose for which the tax is intended.

Both methods further increase the cost of new & remodeled homes. The lost revenue for the affordable lots & homes in each subdivision has to be paid for by increasing the prices of all the other lots & homes. The increased sales taxes raise the cost of materials. Those sales taxes mount up when your are spending in the $100's of thousands of dollars for each home. Just like the "System Development fees add Thousands of dollars to each home.

We don't need just another "feel good" maintenance program. How about being aggressive to really eliminate the problem versus just maintain the problem? If we don't do that when will the next round of taxes be requested?

Richard Heckler 8 months, 1 week ago

Vote NO then send it back to the city commission for a revised ballot:

=== 0.05%% dedicated specifically to Public Transit is necessary for low income families, students, seniors who can no longer drive and for those who cannot afford to own a vehicle and for those who choose not to own a vehicle

=== .3% dedicated specifically to Affordable Housing as it seems there is a huge need for such and would provide enough money to make a substantial impact. Who provides the best bang for the tax buck and tenants? Tenants to Homeowners

=== .2% dedicated specifically to the following which improves the quality of life throughout Lawrence,Kansas and provides safe travel for a broad spectrum of the population. == recreational path infrastructure/recreational trails and paths

=== sidewalks/improvements to crosswalks and accessible ramps

=== safe travel walk to school and back home

Why is this important?

Reduces travel costs

Promotes an active and healthy lifestyle

Expands mobility options for all in Lawrence,Kansas

Provides environmental benefits through reduced traffic congestion which in turn improves air quality.

The collection of such sales tax to commence on April 1, 2019 and shall terminate ten years after its commencement, all in accordance with the provisions of K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 12-187 et seq., and amendments thereto?”

In the meantime:

It seems to me the following were being addressed for many decades before a special tax was put before the taxpayers through budgets and such.

public streets

storm water facilities

traffic calming

residential curb and gutter replacement

reconstruction of roads and intersections

purchasing fire apparatus and related fire equipment including radios and personal protective equipment.

Where is the money? Where did it go?

Do taxpayers want to use tax dollars being held in reserve funds for some of this?

Bob Summers 8 months, 1 week ago

"Solved" with someone else's "pennies".

This parasitical behavior is one of the many symptoms for people with the Liberal fettle.

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