Opinion: Housing needed, not a football stadium

Kansas policymakers are abuzz about the recent defeat of a sports stadium tax in Jackson County, Missouri. Unfortunately, they’re saying all the wrong things. To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s affordable housing, stupid.”

If the tax had been approved, the money would have gone to renovate Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs. The three-eighths of a cent sales tax extension would also have partially financed a new downtown stadium for the Royals. Before the vote, nearly all publicity was on the Royals, who confused voters by repeatedly changing plans and venues for months prior to the vote. The opposition was led by KC Tenants, who had a simple message: Why subsidize billionaire-owned, for-profit sports teams with a regressive sales tax that falls hardest on the poor, when Kansas Citians cannot find decent, affordable housing? This problem extends well into Kansas.

Few observers believe the defeat had anything to do with Arrowhead Stadium or the Chiefs. Arrowhead will already be the site of renovations in advance of the 2026 World Cup, which will feature games played there. For additional improvements, the Chiefs and Royals now plan to seek support separately. The Chiefs have a stronger case, and they wish to remain at Arrowhead.

Of course, none of this kept the hype machine from springing into action. Proposals came from as far away as San Antonio, suggesting that the Chiefs move (they have a fiercely loyal fan base here and no plans to move). Ignoring the caution of Gov. Kelly, Kansas legislators also leapt into the act, suggesting an extravagant new Chiefs stadium in Wyandotte County, with a ludicrous plan to fund it with STAR bonds. Considering that the more modest Prairie Fire project in Overland Park recently defaulted on its STAR bonds, the idea that a multibillion-dollar football stadium could be entirely financed this way is outrageous. Granted, Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy soccer stadium in Wyandotte County was a successful STAR bonds project — but it is much smaller and only a fraction of the cost of a new football stadium. When STAR bonds default, Kansas and/or local taxpayers are on the hook, as with Prairie Fire.

All this hype completely misses the point. The real story of that Jackson County vote is not about sports at all. It is about housing costs.

KC Tenants is a new group formed out of backlash against the KC area’s skyrocketing housing costs and substandard rental housing. Last year, they upset an establishment candidate to win a seat on the KCMO city council, and now this. The housing problem is also hitting hard in Kansas, and it is only a matter of time before KC Tenants or similar groups start popping up here. They secured a 58% “no” vote on the sports tax in Jackson County, despite being outspent by about 20 to 1.

Housing costs are shooting up all over Kansas. In the last year, they rose 6.9% in KC, 5.5% in Lawrence (where they were already high), and a whopping 10.9% in Wichita. In Topeka, a recent KSNT story found that housing costs have nearly doubled in the last two decades. In many places where affordable housing can still be found, it is in poor condition. This includes large swaths of rural Kansas.

Nationally, housing costs are rising twice as fast as wages. This drains money from other needs, lowers the quality of life and worsens homelessness. Expect this new movement’s influence to keep spreading across both states, until policymakers start listening.

— Michael Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.


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