Part 8: Does Kansas City Have and Affordable Housing Problem?
(You can read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, and part seven in this series here.)
Our results in the previous blog post indicate that Kansas City may have an affordable housing problem, but one that doesn’t affect most residents. These findings don’t seem to match public perception on the issue. According to a recent national poll, approximately 90% of respondents stated they believe housing affordability to be a major issue where they live. According to the table below, using data from the same American Community Survey as used previously in this series, many households in Kansas City say they are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Does that confirm there’s an affordability problem or is there more to the story?
Using household income as our primary measure for housing affordability may make the most sense based on the data our government collects, but it is not a perfect measure for gaining insight into what households find affordable, especially for those with lower incomes. For example, if you don’t have a car or another means of transportation, housing that’s miles away from your place of work that costs 30% of your income is likely not affordable once daily commute costs are taken into account.
In times with record-breaking inflation like we’re seeing now, and rising home prices, it’s easy to feel like there’s a housing affordability problem. Because for many people, the place they live or want to live has become more expensive to them. And as long as all Kansas Citians, regardless of income, are allowed to freely choose where they live and pay how much they feel they can afford to pay to live there, these same data will show some level of housing unaffordability that is not reflective of a need for government intervention, but a result of consumer choice.
That’s also why when discussing housing affordability and the public policies that are aimed at combatting the issue, we have to be careful and say specifically what we mean or the policies that follow will be sure to miss the mark. As I hope my posts have made clear, affordable housing policy is hard. Moreover, with house prices, rents, and interest rates rising more rapidly than incomes, the debate over housing affordability is likely to grow, and with it, the potential for misleading analysis and counterproductive policy solutions. In particular, any one-size-fits-all policy that aims to improve housing affordability in Kansas City by treating households with varying incomes the same would likely not be successful at achieving the desired results.