June 14, 2021
Lawrence, US 66 F
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Kirsten Kuhn: Lawrence should lift regulations to ease housing crisis (Column)

Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

Access to affordable housing remains one of our biggest challenges in Lawrence and surrounding communities. Many continue to call upon the local governing commissions to take action regarding this issue. However, it is precisely because of government action that we find ourselves in this problem. 

Property use restrictions and zoning regulations are the primary drivers of high rents and limited availability of affordable housing. Other factors — such as the boundaries of the city, a lack of good jobs, and a realty market dominated by out-of-state interests — do have an effect, but are not as easily or quickly remedied as simply lifting current local property use restrictions. 

The most salient constraint for many of us may be the limit on unrelated individuals cohabiting. Currently, no more than three unrelated people may occupy a single rental home, even if there is a greater number of bedrooms available. 

To give you a personal example: While a student at KU, I lived in a house near campus with two roommates. With two bathrooms and five bedrooms, there was more than adequate space for us to provide rooms to others  — something we did repeatedly, despite that being in violation of the law and lease.  

College students know all too well the struggles of balancing needed income for shelter with the required dedication to coursework. Allowing them to make choices about their own living arrangements would allow them the flexibility to make decisions that are right for them. 

For some, this may mean living in closer quarters at less expense. Others who prefer differently would still have the current options, ranging up to $1200 per month. The homeowners of existing properties should be allowed to make the determinations on who can reside there, and under which conditions, as it is they who must bear the burden of taxes and upkeep.

Even single-family homes are hindered by various regulatory burdens. As we’ve seen, our current supply is being rapidly bought up by large companies that intend to rent the property out, rather than by local families acquiring starter homes. 

Our community needs available single-family homes, but new construction is hampered. A 2016 study by the National Association of Home Builders suggests that regulations tack on approximately 24.3% to the cost of a new home. This is not an insignificant amount. NAHB has determined that each $1000 increase in the median cost of a home prices out almost 153,000 people. Regulations are a large driver of these increases.

Further restrictions on land use also prevent owners from building secondary structures, such as tiny homes or mother-in-law suites, on local properties. These small residences can be ideal for individuals on a moderate or reduced income, or those who want some independence while remaining close to family. They may also be appropriate for those just starting out who want to save money. 

Many locals who have expressed an interest in projects of this nature live in close proximity to bus stops, grocery stores and other desired services. This is presumably a benefit for folks looking to reduce their cost of living. There is no reason why the city should object to these sorts of constructions, provided they are not inherently dangerous. 

Liberty means allowing individuals to make choices that are right for them. People are enormously creative at problem-solving when given the freedom and space to innovate. 

Lifting these property use restrictions and allowing community members to make individual decisions regarding what to build (and where), whom to rent to, and under which circumstances, will do more to allow access to affordable housing than any heavy-handed government regulation could ever hope to.

— Kirsten Kuhn (she/her) is a super awesome Libertarian porcupine residing in Palmyra Township. She believes in personal freedom and self-determination for all people and enjoys gardening and beekeeping in her spare time. She can be reached at douglascountylibertarians@gmail.com or @KSLibertarians on Twitter. 

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