Shawnee, Kansas Bans Roommates, Making Housing Even More Out of Reach

unaffordable housing and ban on roommates

The Majority of Americans Live Paycheck to Paycheck as the Country Faces a Shortage of Affordable Housing

The United States is in utter disarray as the affordable housing shortage continues to plague American citizens, shrinking the working class and effectively squeezing most residents right out of home ownership.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, for every 100 low-income renters, there are just 36 available affordable housing units. The problem is multi-pronged and expanding, even as some government officials scramble and scrape to rebuild.

We simply aren’t building or refurbishing enough housing fast enough to keep up with demand. Excessive amounts of money are being funneled into temporary housing, which costs a lot and has a negative environmental impact. With an encroaching global recession, inflation surge, mass layoffs and unemployment, and an unstable economic future, many renters are desperately seeking answers.

Suppose you’re living paycheck to paycheck like 63% of Americans. You’ve already been locked out of the prospect of homeownership, which is the reality for more than half the nation. How can you possibly pay the biggest increase in rent that our nation has ever seen? If your answer is getting a roommate, you best not move to Shawnee, Kansas.

Shawnee, Kansas Becomes the First City to Ban Roommates, a Shameful Title to Hold

Shawnee, Kansas, a metropolis in Johnson County, just became the first city in modern times to ban roommates. Is this the makings of a new, unsettling trend? Only time may tell.

Official reports on the subject say the Shawnee City Council voted to outlaw co-living situations for individuals who are not blood relatives of one another. Under the ordinance, four or more people cannot legally share a single dwelling in certain zoning districts if one or more of them are not blood related. This comes when more than half the country is grappling to make ends meet.

Given the circumstances, you might assume this was a difficult decision for council members. Alas, it was not. They voted unanimously.

Every Single Member of the City Council Voted in Favor of the Roommate Ban

To be clear, there was no hot political tug-of-war over this topic. City council members were unanimous in their decision to make renting a home as unaffordable as possible for those already struggling to survive.

As is to be expected, they hid their true intentions behind alleged “resident concerns.”

But here is a fact you might not know – almost half of all Shawnee City renters, 48% to be exact, have a more dire and immediate concern. They are classified as rent-burdened, which means more than 30% of their income is needed to make rent.

It seems odd, given these circumstances, that the council would choose to act against their interests and in favor of this suspicious piece of legislation.

In defense of the abhorrent ordinance, councilmembers made the following claim:

“City Staff received input and concerns from residents and City Council members regarding a relatively new trend where single-family homes are being purchased and converted into rental units with multiple individual tenants.”

That really boils down to the fact that they don’t want facilities that operate similarly to boarding houses being run in single-family districts. 

This is NIMBY-ism at its core.

Even if the intention was not to technically ban roommates, the result is still a roommate ban. Notedly, this comes at a time when housing prices peaked at a median price of almost half a million dollars, or $443,700, to be exact. While the ban has sparked a national discussion surrounding the general lack of affordable housing, there are other, broader implications to consider.

Here’s Who Voted to Ban Roommates

In case you were curious as to which councilmembers voted to ban roommates in single-family districts in Shawnee, Kansas, their names are listed below in the order they appear on the official Shawnee City website:

  • Tammy Thomas
  • Tony Gillette
  • Eric Jenkins
  • Mike Kemmling
  • Kurt Knappen
  • Angela Stiens
  • Jill Chalfie 
  • Jacklynn Walters

Nationwide Implications

As we have seen with other oppressive types of legislation, once one city boldly moves in the direction of perpetuating cycles of poverty and punishment, other cities are quick to follow. It is currently illegal to be homeless in almost every state in the nation. How long until it is also illegal to have roommates in all or most places?

Contact Your Representatives about Drafting Responsible Housing Legislation

There is a lot at stake if roommates are banned in all or most single-family districts across the country. Citing increasing housing unaffordability, Zillow projects that one in three adults are currently living with roommates, which is a record high:

“As rents have outpaced incomes, living alone is no longer an option for many working-aged adults,” said Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas.

What happens when living with roommates is no longer an option either?

There are currently thousands of pallet shelters and prison cells just waiting to be filled with working-class citizens who can no longer afford to make ends meet. Talk to your local representatives about drafting more responsible legislation by making housing a human right.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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