The city is considering an ordinance (ordinance 220698) that would allow Accessory Dwelling Units – secondary homes or apartments that share the building lot of a larger primary house – to be built in Kansas City. ADUS are becoming popular especially on the west coast and may include carriage houses, granny flats, garage apartments and additions built on lots where homes already exist.  Proponents of making ADUS legal in Kansas City say that they allow senior citizens to stay near family as they age, allow homeowners to generate extra income, create more housing options,  and allow local governments to receive additional tax revenue. While there may be benefits for individual homeowners, the city has not allowed time to study the impact on neighborhoods or asked for input from the public.

The ordinance was introduced in the Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee on August 17, 2022. See CPC Case information HERE.

Historic Kansas City has not taken a position on the ADU ordinance, but we believe that it is moving too quickly without the opportunity for input and that there are several concerns that should be addressed before we make such an important change in the zoning of historic and other neighborhoods. HKC testified before the Plan Commission on September  6th and before the City Council Committee on September 14th

Issues that should be addressed before ADU legislation is passed. 

  1. The current draft ordinance’s purpose is defined as providing housing choice, allowing households to get additional income, and reducing the cost of housing by increasing density. While these are admirable goals, experience in other cities shows that ADUs are generally built in more affluent communities, are rarely occupied by families or low-income folks who need housing the most, and have not been successful in helping build wealth and equity for the average homeowner. The cost of building an ADU (estimated at around $90,000 in Missouri) is a barrier, as is the difficulty in getting a construction loan. The process requires obtaining the proper permits from the city, hiring architects, applying for financing, and running sewer and water connections.  During the current period of supply-chain disruption and skyrocketing material costs, construction usually takes between 12 and 18 months. The lag time from breaking ground to receiving first rent check is estimated at nine months. Those adding ADUS may also see an increase in property taxes after the property is assessed with improvements. These barriers mean that it is often only affluent homeowners who can afford to build ADUS.

  2. This draft does not spell out what additional city resources would be required to enforce it. In order to evaluate this major change in city policy, we need to understand what resources will be needed to monitor and enforce the new regulations. Only when we know the cost of adding staff and other expenses can we evaluate whether city funds could be used more effectively, for example in a targeted effort to create affordable housing for very low income people, assisting with rehabbing already-existing properties such as six-plexes, or providing assistance to homeowners who need financial assistance to stay in their homes.

  3. While some more innovative models for ADU pilot projects are being tried elsewhere, the current Kansas City proposal does not incorporate the lessons that have already been learned in other cities. Durham, North Carolina is using a land trust model of ownership to build ADUS. The Napa Sonoma ADU Center in California is testing the success of helping homeowners who would not otherwise be able to afford construction find funding.

  4. Concern about unlicensed short-term rentals in Kansas City is high right now, and there is concern legalizing ADUS could increase absentee ownership and unregulated dwelling units. There is growing concern in some Kansas City neighborhoods about the erosion of neighborhoods based on absentee short-term rental owners and the inability of the city to keep up with unlicensed short-term rentals. We are concerned that allowing ADUS could add to this problem, since many investors are operating short-term rentals without registering them or complying with city codes. The city does not have the staff to keep up with this growing STR problems, which is of increasing concern to historic neighborhoods. While the draft ordinance would require the owner of the lot to live in either the principal or accessory unit and says that owner must record a deed restriction containing this provision, it offers no plan for regulating this provision or for addition resources to ensure this actually happens.

  5. Kansas City neighborhoods are diverse and a one-size-fits-all approach may not work everywhere. One of the goals of the draft ordinance is to increase density. Midtown Kansas City neighborhoods are already the most dense and diverse neighborhoods in the city. Many of these neighborhoods fought to downzone to single-family in the 1970s and 80s, after their homes had been broken up into multiple apartments after WWII and believe single-family zoning has led to a resurgence of owner-occupied homes, owners rehabbing homes that might otherwise have been lost, and the repopulation of Midtown. Additionally, the draft says no additional off-street parking will be required, even though many older homes were built with one-car garages or single car driveways and street parking may be limited.

  6. The Historic Preservation Commission should review ADUS proposed for historic districts before they are built. The draft ordinance does not require any review to ensure that the units fit the character of historic neighborhoods, that their visibility from the street is minimized, or that they fit within the fabric of the neighborhood. The new regulations should require: neighborhoods notification before potential builders go before the going Historic Preservation Commission; requirements to minimize visibility from the street; consideration of how the new structure or addition will fit into the fabric of neighborhood; require use of appropriate materials such as windows, doors, detailing, and roofing; require staff level review and approval by Historic Preservation Commission, and develop a set of design guidelines for historic districts.

  7. The loss of green space and trees should be weighed against the value of increased density in older neighborhoods. Allowing ADUS in some neighborhoods will require owners to cut down 100-year-old trees, add concrete driveways and destroy habitat for urban wildlife. It should also be noted that existing structures are more “green” than new construction, so more attention to helping maintain and restore existing homes and apartments or reusing buildings as affordable housing may offer more effective solutions to the city’s housing problem.

We understand and agree with some of the stated goals of this proposal, such as allowing senior citizens to stay near family as they age, allowing homeowners to generate extra income, and allowing local governments to receive additional tax revenue. Our concern is that, while there may be benefits for individual homeowners, the city has not allowed time to study the impact on neighborhoods, included language related to historic neighborhoods, or asked for input from the public.

We believe the following items should be addressed before the legislation moves forward:

  1. Provisions for the building of ADUS within historic districts.

  2. Realistic and enforceable requirements that the primary home or ADU on a lot must be occupied by the owner of the property.

  3. Identification of budgetary resources for enforcement of ADU regulations.

A good Overview of the Pros and Cons from Shelterforce Magazine

[Image Livable KC Coalition Fact Sheet]