Void exists for lower-priced homes in Platte County

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

I’ll take an early January with warm days and a Kansas City Chief’s football team with a fighting chance in the NFL playoffs. Let us enjoy this, at least for a week.

A friend who moved back to Kansas City from sunny West Coast climes lamented to me during November’s blizzard and bitter cold that perhaps we were in for a non-stop brutal winter. I assured her that this is western Missouri, thus we could be in shirt sleeves after Christmas. I was bluffing of course. But considering Platte County’s position in the middle of all jet streams and weather patterns, it was a safe bet.

While we’re contemplating nature’s New Year’s gift, let’s look for a little warmth in issues that may affect the county in 2019.

Affordable housing is a topic the Kansas City Council was discussing as 2018 waned. Various proposals are floating around the council to help finance affordable housing such as a property tax, a sales tax, a scooter tax, carving money from existing general revenue and tax incentives. A factor in all this is jockeying on the issue by candidates for Kansas City mayor.

There’s a first glance assumption that this is primarily a topic for older neighborhoods in Kansas City south of the Missouri River, but Platte County needs to keep an eye peeled on this issue, too.

Growth along the city’s Interstate 29 corridor and in the smaller cities from Parkville to Platte City has created service industry jobs. They are jobs many people need to get started or keep going in life, but they are not high-pay jobs. Having people make a long commute or bus ride is not the best long-term answer. Most of the county’s new housing is geared to buyers with generous incomes.

Council members have used figures quoted by The Kansas City Star that the city needs 7,000 additional homes for families making less than $15,000 a year, and 10,000 more homes for families in the $50,000-$75,000 range. That latter set of figures likely includes plenty of current Platte County residents. I find it odd, too, that they don’t include numbers for families earning in the $30,000-$50,000 range, which I think would spike housing need figures upward.

I don’t think you’re going to find a builder willing to construct anything new in the county that fits the lowest incomes, but I’d like to be more hopeful that something could be done for families in the $30,000 to $75,000 range. I’d hate to see it forced through legislation. The fix is likely going to be through tax incentives, innovations in the housing construction industry and white knight builders who simply want to contribute to the broader community.

If revenue is generated in the county for a Kansas City affordable housing program, some of those dollars need to come north.

Will this be the year that any progress is made in Missouri on the backlog of highway and bridge improvements?

Arity, a research company, released a national study late in 2018 that said Americans are growing disillusioned with stop-and-go traffic in cities. That’s certainly not news to me. Yet I drive on, as a baby boomer who grew up thinking the car gave me freedom like the cowboy enjoyed with the horse in the 1800s. But this is a new century, and Arity’s study showed young people don’t feel like driving is worth the hassle. That’s because more cars, rising construction costs and politics placed above pragmatism have choked highways.

Missouri voters said no in last November’s election to a poorly designed highway proposal put on the ballot by state legislators. The Kansas City metro is also hampered by weak commitment to mass transit that dates back many decades.

Here’s hoping the young people cited by Arity contribute to better ideas and more political backbone for urban transportation improvements.

Johnson County in November was celebrating a new county park, Meadowbrook Park, developed on an old golf course in Prairie Village. It’s funny how the most successful and influential county in Kansas values high-quality park development. That breeze doesn’t seem to be blowing here.

Meadowbrook Park has a designated sledding hill, which will be handy if it ever snows again. Of course we know it will, and a warm January week will seem like something we dreamed.