SHAWNEE, Kan. — People in Shawnee are pushing for the city council to reconsider a newly passed ordinance limiting the number of adults who can share a home.
On April 25, the city council unanimously approved an ordinance to change city code related to room rentals in residential zoning districts.
One of the changes rewrites city zoning to define “family” for single family homes. The code now defines family as a group of one or more related people living together, or a group of fewer than three unrelated adults living together in a single family home.
Any group of four or more unrelated adults living together in a home would be considered a co-living group. The new ordinance prohibits co-living houses and rooming houses in nearly all city zoning districts.
“From the perspective of adjacent homeowners, the problems that can occur with a household of mixed relations are the same problems that can occur with a similarly sized household with related family members,” former City Council member Lisa Larson-Bunnell said.
Larson-Bunnell suggested the council address the issue by limiting the number of adults in a home based on the number of rooms or the square footage of a home.
Several residents addressed the council Monday night, requesting the city council consider placing the co-living ordinance on a future council agenda for further discussion and review.
Christian Masters is now a homeowner, but said when he was younger he lived with three other adult roommates in a home rented from one of their parents. Masters is concerned the language of the ordinance could make it more difficult for young adults to afford to live in Shawnee.
“None of us can deny the housing market currently is in a chaotic state. Homes are being appraised at a much higher rate than they have in subsequent years. I cannot help that the people being most affected and impacted by this ordinance are our least fortunate and younger citizens who are just starting their lives,” Masters said.
Val French lives in Shawnee with her husband, two adult children and her son’s girlfriend. French said she doesn’t feel the council has weighed all the potential living arrangements of Shawnee residents and needs to reconsider its implications.
“I do understand that we don’t really want poor people in Shawnee. We don’t really want people who aren’t affluent in Johnson County. I’m very aware of the classism and racism that goes on in this county,” French said.
During the meeting, Councilmember Eric Jenkins read an email sent to the city council from Johnson County NAACP President Henry E. Lyons. According to Jenkins, that letter reads in part:
“In an article in the Kansas City Star newspaper, critics of your co-living ordinance alluded to it being racist in its nature and could lead back to the times of J.C. Nichols, where discrimination in housing was the norm.
“We disagree and support your efforts to look out for homeowners and tenants in your city. Whenever some people can’t come up with a logical or intelligent response to an issue they play the race card. Don’t let playing the race card intimidate you.”
Jenkins said the ordinance is modeled after a similar housing policy in Lawrence, Kansas.
“This has zero to do with racism. Those kinds of comments really provide no value to any discussion quite frankly because they are just totally off the wall,” Jenkins said.
Typically in co-living arrangements, individuals or companies purchase a single family home and modify it with the intent for each room in the house to be rented to an individual tenant.
In some cases, those home modifications allow the property owner to bypass parking and safety requirements the city set.
Jae Moyer said to combat the issue, the city should put pressure on landlords instead of renters.
“I understand what you were trying to do. I very much support what you were trying to do, but don’t put the burden on the renters. Put the burden on the investors and the landlords to make sure they are doing their due diligence to make sure that everything is keeping things nice for renters and for homeowners in Johnson County. We need to make sure we are not punishing renters for this,” Moyer said.
Councilmember Jill Chalfie said she feels the ordinance has come with several unintended consequences.
“I do think we were trying to solve a problem with it; which was individuals or companies coming in and turning single family homes into apartments in single family neighborhoods. I don’t think anyone disputes that we don’t want that to happen,” Chalfie said. “I feel like our action was a little bit reactionary and it stemmed from one instance that I think could have largely been solved through code enforcement.”
Councilmember Tony Gillette said he feels the council made the correct decision in supporting the policy change, despite an influx of media attention.
“It was actually delayed once as well so that we can get this right, and we did get it right. We hired additional attorneys to get this right. We can’t worry about what is written in headlines in the media,” Gillette said.
Residential group homes for people with disabilities will not be affected by the updated city code. Enforcement of the new ordinance will be handled by the city on a complaint basis.
The council did not take any formal action to put the co-living ordinance on a future council agenda or to continue formal discussions on the new code.