Jan 01, 2022

INSIGHT KANSAS: Housing data sheds light on tough political problem

Posted Jan 01, 2022 11:30 AM
Patrick R. Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. 
Patrick R. Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. 

December brought Kansas its first comprehensive look at its housing needs in nearly three decades. This report is a bonanza for policy geeks and anyone who cares about housing issues. 

The Office of Rural Prosperity, created by Governor Laura Kelly, partnered with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, Kansas’s housing finance agency, to sponsor the report. It provides localized data on housing needs, population trends, and market dynamics.  

If you want to address housing challenges facing average Kansans, the data in this report are the start.  

For renters, finding quality and affordable housing is hard in many communities. That leaves many Kansans paying inflated prices for under-maintained properties or paying significantly more than mortgages might otherwise cost. 

For buyers, a limited supply of affordable, modest-sized homes is pushing many into renting or more expensive homes than desired. And many buyers can’t compete when sellers in some Kansas markets expect perks like thousands in cash over asking or waived inspections. 

But in some Kansas communities, especially shrinking rural communities, reality is often different—too few buyers and difficulty obtaining funds to bring properties up to buyer expectations. 

From the report, two problems define most Kansas markets. 

First, there is a gap in middle class housing, typically more affordable, smaller sized, and smaller lot homes. This is the critical shortage that turns buyers into renters or encourages larger mortgages just to have a house. In the Kansas City metro, it can also be the deciding factor between living in Kansas versus Missouri. 

Second, there is a shortage of rental and smaller home stock suitable for our aging population. In Kansas, only the Kansas City metro saw its share of 0-19-year-olds grow in the last decade. 

You can sense from local politics that these trends clash with how some communities see themselves. In 2021 local elections in Kansas, some communities saw real controversy over new rental housing and whether policies should favor larger or smaller single family homes.  

If city halls in Kansas make growth decisions based on image over needs and trends, they might make easy political decisions that actually make the housing situation in their communities more challenging. 

For the frustrated, asking how to improve this situation is natural. The answers may not be easy. 

Housing is an inherently local issue. The easiest solutions may be found in local government—growth policies and zoning. But participation in local elections in Kansas is pretty low. How many of us know who serves on our city councils, let alone what growth decisions they make that ultimately frustrate us? 

Politicians in Topeka can still promote solutions. It might require innovate policy and local partnerships. This is truly an issue where there is no one simple solution, and where brainstorming effective policy innovation is needed. 

Finding these solutions, though, requires our political machinery to actually care. Some in the politics industry care more about talking about housing problems for political point-scoring than actually finding hard solutions. Or they would rather carnival bark about sideshows like critical race theory or outrage-of-the-day headlines than engage you on hard issues. 

You can read the “Kansas Statewide Housing Needs Assessment 2021” at https://kshousingcorp.org/. Kansas doesn’t need to wallow helplessly in its housing challenges, but we do need citizens and policymakers who know the real problems and seek the hard solutions. 

Patrick R. Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas.