Shared from the 2018-07-18 The Kansas City Star eEdition

A thriving Johnson County requires affordable housing

It is time to re-think how we define a thriving community. Typically, we focus on economic development, beautification efforts and quality schools. But are Johnson County communities thriving if an increasing number of residents are being priced out of the opportunity to live here?

In Johnson County, one in five households with a mortgage are cost burdened and for renters that figure grows to two in five. Even one in 10 homeowners without a mortgage experience being cost burdened. Cost burdened means your housing expenditures are more than 30 percent of your household income.

This is not a new issue. In the past, Johnson County conducted a Housing Market and Needs Analysis Study and the Board of County Commissioners formed a Housing Choices Task Force. Findings highlighted in the study and by the task force are issues we still struggle with today, including:

A Soaring housing prices in Johnson County that have risen faster than incomes, forcing poor, middle and working-class people to live farther and farther from their work and social environment.

A Teachers, police officers, nurses, retail and customer service employees, home health aides, restaurant employees and social workers are just a few examples of the types of employees who struggle to find housing to own or rent that is affordable in or near the communities in which they work.

A Young adults are often unable to live in the communities in which they were raised.

A Rising property values have also increased tax bills and placed added burden on senior citizens, single-adult households, and others who live on limited and fixed incomes.

A The current housing market is not providing adequate levels of housing affordability.

Since 2014, cost of living for Johnson County residents has increased by double digits. Single households have seen a 24 percent increase in costs and all other household types have experienced a 15 percent-19 percent increase. Housing cost is a key component of this increase. Since 2006, we have seen the proportion of homes in Johnson County available for purchase under $250,000 go down as the proportion of homes valued above $250,000 increase. Rents have increased by more than 29 percent during this same period.

Additionally, 1 in 17 county residents live at or below the federal poverty level. The poverty rate for youth, 18- 24 years old, who are out on their own, is more than double that of the county rate. We look to employment to be the solution, but 80 percent of our residents living in poverty work and 30 percent of jobs in our county pay less than $15 an hour. According to current cost of living data, a single adult living on their own in Johnson County would need to make at least $16.74 an hour or $34,824 a year to maintain a modest yet adequate standard of living, which is more than three times what an individual living at or below the federal poverty level earns.

If these trends continue, will young adults and families be able to live here? Will longtime residents be able to retire here? A thriving community needs a healthy, vibrant workforce for the wide array of jobs that enable a community to function, grow and be a desirable place to call home.

Julie K. Brewer is executive director of United Community Services of Johnson County. She co-wrote this with the agency’s board president, Justin Nichols.

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