‘Co-living’ ban deals blow to affordable housing in Kansas
City of Shawnee

SHAWNEE, Kan.—One of the strategies relied on by people desperate to find affordable housing has been killed off in the city of Shawnee, Kan. The City Council there has voted 8-0 to pass a new ordinance targeting what it calls “co-living.” The move has dealt a painful blow to people in multi-person living situations.

The ordinance was passed April 25, 2022. Co-living is the practice wherein a formerly single family home is split into multiple rented rooms that may contain tenants that are not related to each other—housemates. The new ordinance states that any “co-living” situation that has four or more tenants that are unrelated is banned in Shawnee. Any situation where there are three related and one or more unrelated persons is also banned. This has been made effective in all zoning districts in Shawnee, including apartment and duplex zones.

The seeds of this ordinance are apparently to be found in complaints made to City Council member Jacklynn Walters about two properties being remodeled to become multi-person apartments.

Walters said that at least one seller refused to sell their home to an investment company for that reason. Walters believes that this type of living situation changes the character of both the individual property and the surrounding neighborhood.

In defense of its action, the council characterizes the move as an attempt to slow inflating costs, as real estate investors hoping to convert homes to apartments often outbid local buyers, rocketing house prices higher.

But it is easy to see that class plays a higher part in this discussion than the council lets on. Councilmember Erik Jenkins stated that this impacts homebuyers with expectations of what type of neighborhood they will be living in. The not-so-subtle nod to the idea that renters will somehow change the “character” of the neighborhood has been brushed aside by council members as they continue to insist they are working in residents’ best interests.

They have stated their target is deterring investors, but they have put the crosshairs on tenants who are trying to find affordable housing in a constantly worsening residential system. Reports by United Community Services of Johnson County, show that Johnson County, where Shawnee is located, is the wealthiest county in Kansas. Over 40% of tenants here pay 30% or more of their income on rent. This trend shows a continuing growth pattern and does not appear to be slowing down in the near future.

But the fight by tenants for affordable housing is not over yet. Despite comments from the City Council stating it has no intention of overturning its decision anytime soon, the people are making their voices heard.

Statements from K.C. Tenants Union leader Tara Raghuveer are raising attention about the impact the Shawnee ordinance will have on working-class people.

“Poor people and tenants are already invisibilized in places like this. Policies like the one passed this week make these communities even more hostile to non-homeowners,” Raghuveer said on Twitter.

The ordinance has a sinister echo from years past, reminding many of racist redlining and restrictive covenants practices. In the first half of the 20th century, developers like J.C. Nichols and the Kroh Brothers sliced up the greater Kansas City metro area and isolated subdivisions into racial blocks, barring Black Jewish, and West and Central Asian families from owning or leasing in most major communities around the city.

“With the ‘co-living ban,” Raghuveer said, “Shawnee’s City Council has taken a bizarre step in the direction of re-enforcing this dark legacy in Johnson County.”


Ty Aston
Ty Aston

Ty Aston is an IT professional based in Kansas City. He is a new labor organizer and is working towards getting his place of employment aligned with the Communications Workers of America. When not organizing, he is an amateur music historian and trained linguist who enjoys puzzles and hockey in his spare time.