By Kevin Collison
A $56 million riverfront apartment proposal that would have been the first to meet the city’s affordable housing goal is now in “limbo” after the Port KC board failed to vote on it Monday.
The plan by Lux Living of St. Louis for a 250-unit apartment development was seeking a 25 year property tax reduction, but opposition by the Kansas City School District, Kansas City Public Library and the KC Tenants housing activist group derailed a vote.
The motion to consider a $56 million revenue bond for the project failed when Port KC Commissioner Henok Tekeste withdrew his second after listening to opponents.
“The school district is not happy, the tenants association is not happy,” Tekeste said.
“I mean, what are we doing really? Is it not what we should be doing to get the tenants, the school district and the community to be a beneficiary of this thing?”
After Tekeste canceled his support, no other Port KC commissioners offered to second the measure and Chairwoman Deb Hermann said the motion failed.
In a statement afterwards, Jon Stephens, Port KC executive director, said the Lux Living proposal is in limbo because the board took no action.
“In the coming weeks, I will be discussing the future of this project with the project developer and the Commissioners,” Stephens said.
The potentially fatal setback to the Lux Living project followed criticism by the school district and library about the length and duration of the tax break being sought for the project.
The developer was seeking a 25-year property tax reduction, 90 percent for 10 years, 75 percent for 10 years, and 25 percent for five years.
Kathleen Pointer, senior policy analyst for the school district, also noted the agreement included no clawbacks should Lux Living sell the project and the developer was not being required to accept housing vouchers from potential low-income tenants.
“The numbers show us, most people using these vouchers are single Black mothers,” Pointer said. “I’m incredibly disappointed to hear that.”
Her criticism prompted a sharp exchange with Brian Rabineau, Port KC deputy general counsel. He said Port KC was following the city’s policy on housing vouchers.
“I think you’re missing the fact there’s a large portion of the population that does not have a voucher and is still in need of affordable housing,” Rabineau said.
“Can we be the savior to everyone, every group in this project? No, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Pointer also is on the board of KC Tenants. Several other members of the group also testified against the proposal.
“I don’t understand where we’re using tax incentives and abatements to come down to a luxurious part of town with a development company named Lux Living,” said Clay Marcusen, who described himself as a leader.
“We’re using the set aside city requirement. It’s for people who are moving down to that area that traditionally renters cannot afford that level of rent.”
The Council affordable housing policy mandates 10 percent of the units be set aside for people earning 30 percent or less of area median income (AMI) and 10 percent for those earning 70 percent or less.
Fifty of the project’s apartments were to be set aside to meet that goal.
Port KC officials also said they negotiated with Lux Living to provide a mix of units to be affordable, not just studios. For those making 30 percent AMI, monthly rent for a studio would be $455; one-bedroom, $520, and two bed-room, $585.
Wilson Vance, KC Tenants organizing director, said it would be “embarrassing” if the Port KC board approved the proposal, citing negative publicity the company’s projects have experienced in St. Louis.
“I cannot believe that with this evidence against this developer, with the lack of truly affordable housing in the year 2022 that we’re about to give a 25 year tax abatement to a known slum lord who’s not even in Kansas City,” she said.
Port KC executives visited Lux Living developments in St. Louis, interviewed tenants, staff and city development officials, and concluded the projects were well run and maintained, according to testimony last week before the agency development committee.
Members also were told the 25-year abatement was necessary to finance the project and meet the affordable housing goals required by the City Council.
The development committee endorsed the Lux Living proposal on a 5-1 vote.
The land is currently generating no taxes and the schools, libraries and other taxing jurisdictions would have received $5.5 million in new revenues over the life of the incentive.
After the motion failed, Hermann praised her fellow Port KC commissioners and said they didn’t deserve the criticism they experienced over the issue.
“I do not think it’s fair or appropriate, there was some of that testimony with words like disgusting and embarrassment…that none of us deserve,” she said.
In his statement, Stephens said the project had been vetted thoroughly by the Port KC staff with the goal of meeting the city affordable housing goals.
“This project would have been the first project in Kansas City to meet the City’s affordable housing ordinance, and on remediated land that has never been taxable,” he said.
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