It’s now illegal to have three roommates in Shawnee, Kansas.
The Shawnee City Council voted 8 – 0 to outlaw co-living groups. The city defined co-living as four or more unrelated adults living together in a dwelling unit. If one adult is unrelated to another adult, then the whole group would be classified as unrelated and therefore banned.
Co-living is generally known as a trend that started on the coasts where multiple roommates share common spaces, but each has a locking bedroom door.
Kristy Baughman, the director of education and planning for United Community Services of Johnson County told the Shawnee council that property values in Johnson County have risen 37% in the past five years while wages have remained stagnant, causing an affordable housing problem in the area.
“Nearly half of all Johnson County renters pay 30% or more of their income towards rent, while homeowners pay 14%,” says Baughman.
This means that renters are somehow finding themselves house-poor, because 30% of income towards housing is the universally agreed-upon number that one shouldn’t exceed. Renters also aren’t necessarily in a position to benefit from accumulating equity, as their money simply lines the pockets of landlords.
The Shawnee City Council heard these facts and ruled the way they did anyway; as if they were saying, “Take that poor people!”
This ordinance was in response to a company, HomeRoom, purchasing a four-bedroom home, converting it to seven bedrooms, and advertising a room for $300 a month, which includes a shared kitchen and living room along with landscaping.
Proponents of the co-living ban paint quite the picture: “third-world tenements” are coming to Shawnee! Property values will plummet as heathen co-renters block all roads with their jalopy vehicles parked all willy-nilly!
The debate featured little nuance before Shawnee City Council voted unanimously to ban four adults from living together. If the problem was absentee landlords—address that. If the problem was overrun slums—address that. If the problem was street parking or too many people in too small a space—address that.
But no. Shawnee decided to issue a blanket ordinance.
They didn’t mind that the founder of HomeRoom is from Shawnee and not an out-of-towner leaching local real estate. They didn’t limit the ordinance to areas with single-family homes, which is odd considering Shawnee’s apartment mega-plexes full of renters that the city dreads so much.
Further, they issued the order without regard to the size of the home or the number of rooms.
Smaller municipalities are prone to corruption given a lack of oversight. Try to find the members of the Shawnee City Council—it’s a tedious task. They do not openly publish who the members are, let alone publish videos of their meetings.
Something tells me these members got some campaign contributions from a large apartment complex like a MAC Property to keep renters away from affordable co-living situations.
Legally, this is pure conjecture, but it’s the only thing that makes sense, right? Why else do what they did? Something sketchy is going on in Shawnee.
Author’s note: I lived with 4+ roommates for several years; we all worked together and lived together. We rented a house with four bedrooms plus a loft for $1,500 a month on the line between Shawnee and Merriam. We got along well with our neighbors, paid rent early, and only one of us had to park on the street. Those in our group are now lifelong friends that regularly meet up for birthdays, holidays, weddings, and weekends. This new ordinance would have banned our living arrangement, and thus made each of our lives poorer as a result.