Did Shawnee ban roommates? Are unmarried couples, QPRs, & queer family structures under attack? Shawnee is the first city we ever lived in together, so we give a local perspective on the matter, including a history of racial and economic discrimination present here.
Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back. My name is Courtney. I am here with my spouse, Royce, and together, we are The Ace Couple. And today, we are talking about Kansas – Shawnee, Kansas, to be exact – for the internet is abuzz with this nefarious new ordinance that they have passed. And the headlines are all reading, “Shawnee bans co-living! Roommates are under attack! Roommates are now illegal in the state of Kansas!” And so on and so forth, depending on how far down the pipeline you have gone on twitter. Now, this was a bit of a surprise to us, because this is a story that blew up so quickly that I actually saw it from the fellow Aspec community, Asexual and Aromantic people in our twitter community, just shouting about how unfair this law is. And so to hear about it on twitter, from people who do not live here, before we heard about it was very, very odd, because we basically live here. We – you guys, we are local. I have read the local laws. I have dug into the actual city ordinance. I have the scoop. We know what’s going on.
Royce: To give everyone around the world a frame of reference, we are in the Kansas City metro area. The Kansas City metro is about two and a half million people and I don’t know how many different cities. Shawnee is one of them on the Kansas side. It was actually the first city that I moved to when I moved to Kansas City. I lived in Shawnee for about three years. And Courtney, you and I met when I was still living in an apartment in Shawnee.
Courtney: Correct. What was the name of the park we were originally supposed to meet in when I came down? It had “Shawnee” in the name, didn’t it?
Royce: Yeah, that was the Shawnee Mission Park. It was –
Courtney: It was the Shawnee Mission Park!
Royce: It was the largest park in the area.
Courtney: And let’s even get a little more specific about Kansas City. Because people know Kansas because of The Wizard of Oz. [laughs] [slightly dramatic tone] “There’s no place like home” is most people around the world’s first introduction to Kansas as a concept. So when you hear Kansas City, you think, “Well, that’s in Kansas.” There are actually two technical Kansas Cities. There is a Kansas City, Kansas, and just a few minutes away down the road, there is a Kansas City, Missouri.
Royce: Yeah, the Kansas City metro is split by a road that is literally called State Line Road that runs between the states of Kansas and Missouri.
Courtney: You will know you have left Kansas when you’re driving on the road and all of a sudden, there are potholes and cracks and pavement issues. [laughs] Because – and this is very important to the topic we’re going to be discussing today – Johnson County, Kansas is part of the general Kansas City metropolitan area, but it is in the state of Kansas and it is the wealthiest county in the entire state. So I want to get that out first and foremost because it is within Johnson County that Shawnee lies. So, yes, we are very, very familiar. As Royce, you said, this was the first place you moved into this area. Was this actually the first place where you had your own apartment? The first time you didn’t have roommates or family or college dorms, what-have-you?
Royce: Yeah, that’s correct. I had a few different roommate situations before moving here. Moving to Kansas City was my second job out of college. So after having worked a year, I had gotten stable enough to afford a place on my own.
Courtney: So Royce’s first place. It was where I moved down to, if you want that whole actual… This is going to be a very political, very financial, legislative conversation. I promise, we’ll try to make it interesting for you, because Kansas has some weird quirks, but if you want the happy romantic Asexual love story, go listen to “Our Asexual Love Story” and you can hear all about that, if you haven’t already. But when I moved down, I moved into Royce’s apartment until we found a different place to rent together, which only took a couple months. We started looking for a new place pretty much right away. But we both worked in Shawnee. And we’re still in Johnson County. Shawnee is literally right next door to us. [laughs] If you drive in a couple of different directions, you’ll hit Shawnee before you even know you’ve transitioned into a different city.
Courtney: So the tweet that got everyone a-twit – a-twit? – a-tweeting, abuzz, was someone who just took a picture of an actual newspaper, from the Kansas City Star, and of course, all-caps, “I’m not sorry, but how the fuck are y’all gonna ban people living together? People. Living Together. I’m gonna throw up.” So when you say “banning people living together,” people got angry. There are tens of thousands of likes, tens of thousands of retweets. And I’m not going to read the whole thing, but I want to read a couple of excerpts from this photo that was posted along with this tweet. Because it’s not the best written story. I have read many, many better local stories that give a fuller picture. So people were left with a lot of questions after they were reading this.
Courtney: “On Monday, a Johnson County city unanimously voted to ban a living arrangement aimed at helping tenants decrease the amount of rent they pay. The Shawnee City Council voted 8-0 to ban co-living, becoming among the first Kansas City area municipalities to prevent the practice, which has gained popularity in recent years as rent and home prices have soared.” Gonna skip down a couple paragraphs. “‘Co-living has become increasingly popular because of its cost-effectiveness and greater flexibility in cities where rents are high for young professionals,’ The Washington Post wrote in 2019.” So what this photograph failed to do was define what co-living actually was or why they were even looking at this legislation. And I want to say right off the bat, I am very much opposed to it. This is not a defense of what they did. It is still very bad. We should be concerned about it. We should be angry about it.
Royce: We should probably be channeling energies towards contacting the Council-people, who are probably a matter of public record?
Courtney: Not as public as you might expect. They’re not as easy to contact as other legislators are, from what I found. I was a little surprised by that, actually. So to this article’s credit, it does say that “The new ordinance defines a co-living group as a group of at least four unrelated adults living together in a dwelling unit.” So that’s what they’re saying: you cannot have four adults who are unrelated. And so, of course, everyone says, “No roommates.” But there wasn’t alt-text on this image that went viral, so there’s already a certain percentage of people who aren’t able to read this at all and are only seeing the comments. And this is a whole newspaper page, so I don’t know how many people on twitter actually sat and read this whole newspaper page on a tweet, but you go into the comments and there are people who seem to have totally skipped over the four-person rule and are just like, “Nobody can be roommates with anybody.”
Courtney: And this is why we started seeing it, because there were a lot of Aspec people who were very concerned about what this meant for unmarried couples, people in queerplatonic relationships, et cetera, et cetera. So, there were people, both in and out of our community, who are now starting to make this, “Well, they’re attacking all non-married couples, because if you’re not related, you can’t live together anymore.” We haven’t gotten to that point yet, [laughs] I am happy to report. But my goodness, do things get rather weird from this point. Because now everyone’s on high guard. The alerts are up. Everyone is sounding the alarm. And now the tweets I’m starting to see in relation to this story – totally removed from the article now, because now it’s just people commenting on it in fractured circles. So nobody – not everybody’s getting the original source, which is already not the best source. People are saying, “This is going to affect childless couples. It’s going to affect unmarried couples. It’s going to affect gay couples.” Many, many tweets have I seen saying, “This is specifically going to target Aromantic people.”
Courtney: And then I’m just getting a lot of tweets where I don’t even know where these people got these things. I think people are just extrapolating at this point and kind of making things up, because we’re having quotes thrown around that came from nowhere – I have not seen any of these quotes, and it’s not true – that the reason why Kansas has banned co-living is because people don’t like it when tenants who don’t have relationships with each other and are unrelated are occupying single-family homes. I don’t know where anyone got that quote; that quote is nowhere. But I’ve seen it a couple of different times, now, from a couple of different people. And even further down the rabbit hole – I’m honestly, I just have my twitter open right now, and I’m just scrolling, I’m just scrolling Twitter – so these are all people who are somehow Aspec, and to my knowledge, none of these people are local: “Next they’re going to be attacking single people,” and “Soon single people will not be able to live alone.” I could go on, but I will not, because I want to to set the record straight –
Royce: It sounds like we’re already pretty far away from the source material as it is, anyway.
Courtney: We are very far away from the source material, yes.
Royce: And before you go through and start breaking down the local reasons for this and providing some context, I would just like to remind everyone that we are living in an age of misinformation right now.
Royce: And I know it’s hard, but please be wary of mob mentality, of groupthink. Try to take those extra couple of minutes to do a quick search. Fact-check your sources before piling on.
Courtney: Yeah. Because there’s also, sort of… There’s the general issue of misinformation, but there’s also sort of an inadvertently racist undertone to people who see legislation like this and are queer people and say, “This is a direct attack on LGBT people. This is because they do not like queer people. It’s because they don’t like Aromantic people. This is going to eventually turn into targeting gay couples.” Because the fact of the matter is, this area that we’re living in, Johnson County and the entire Kansas City metro area, has extensive histories of racist housing policies, and we’re going to get into it.
Royce: Right, right. This is monetary. You’re going to get into historical things. In more recent years, there has been waves of gentrification going on. There are a lot of luxury apartments going up.
Courtney: [grimacing tone] Oh, the luxury apartments.
Royce: And affordable housing is becoming more and more of a problem.
Courtney: Yes. Absolutely. And we’re going to give you both our firsthand experience with that. And also some history. I’m a historian. I’d be remissed if we didn’t – I’d be remissed. [laughs] I would be remiss if we did not dig into the history. And I don’t want to say that concerns about housing arrangements of queer people should not be considered, because obviously they should. But in my eyes, to take something so out of context… And it’s almost weirder in Kansas, too, because I feel like people are thinking that there are old white conservative people sitting on this board that are like, “The gays are ruining our neighborhood!” And don’t get me wrong, there are old white conservative people on these boards [laughs], trust me, but their concerns are a little different.
Royce: Their concerns are renters not taking care of their damn lawns.
Courtney: Oh my goodness, the lawns. And the thing is, Kansas is surprisingly chill with certain alternative family types. They certainly aren’t the most liberal, but if you are curious, I would suggest listening to our episode on “Our Common Law Marriage.” Because we are fully legally married in Kansas, and we had to do nothing except decide we’re married. [laughs] We did not have to pay the government. We did not have to get a license. And it’s great. And as I recall, it’s also pretty easy in Kansas to be considered domestic partners, to enter into a domestic partnership, which is – it doesn’t have all of the legal and financial benefits that an actual marriage might, but it does give some legal protections to unmarried couples, like being able to share insurance, for an example.
Royce: Yeah. We did that very briefly, for insurance purposes, before we decided to get married.
Courtney: Oh, super briefly. Then we were like, “Why not just ‘married’? It’s so easy in Kansas to just ‘married.’” And so we did. But the big, big, big question on everybody’s mind, before we devolved into getting several steps away from the actual truth and getting really, really alarmist in the discourse, was: why? [laughs] Why did they do this? And believe it or not, there was a reason. It’s not a good reason, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. And “co-living” does not just mean “roommates,” which I think the original article that everyone saw failed to explain properly. Because of course, it says, like, “Oh, co-living has become popular in recent years,” and people are like, “Roommates have existed forever! What are you talking about?” They’re actually talking about co-living companies.
Courtney: And in our case, it is a local company called HomeRoom, which actually seems kind of fine. [laughs] When I found, like, my second local article on this, the way it was written was like, “Oh, these companies are trying to buy all these houses and neighborhoods and rent it out to multiple people.” And so I was thinking this big, like, nefarious corporation that is coming in and doing cash offers on homes, so no one has any chance of buying one, and then charging way too much rent to everybody and just exploiting everyone in the process. And I was going to say, like, “Well if that’s what you’re banning, then maybe that’s fine.” But it kind of seems from my understanding, unless there’s a hidden catch, it kind of seems like a win-win for pretty much everyone except the cranky old conservative homeowners, who don’t like poor people. And, uh, screw them.
Royce: I was gonna say the same thing with harsher words, because we have to mark all of our episodes as explicit content anyway.
Courtney: Whether we curse or not, we’re still a queer podcast. [laughs] So yeah, you’re right: fuck them! [laughs] But HomeRoom, local startup – very, very local, literally in this same county, they’re neighbors. Hello, neighbors. And I learned a bit about their company, actually. We have a local entrepreneurial magazine called Startland News; Kansas City is a very big entrepreneurial community, startup community. There’s a huge culture of that here – which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the day or who you ask. I actually got interviewed by Startland News for my business with Victorian hair work, and while I was talking to the interviewer, I mentioned something about being disabled and something about being Asexual, and she was like, “Can I include all that in the article?” So my Startland News article is like, “She does Victorian hair work and she’s Asexual and she’s disabled and all this stuff!” And so that was kind of cool. But they also did a story about this company, back when they started in 2018.
Courtney: And in 2018, they started with just, like, four houses. And their goal is to basically be a combination of a roommate-matching service that is specifically geared towards young professionals and also a housing management company. So they aren’t actually coming in and buying a bunch of houses for cash and just like buying up the neighborhoods around here. They seem to be more for, like, an upper middle-class person who wants to buy an investment property and become a very hands-off landlord. And you can criticize landlords all you want, because I get it. I wish we just had an economic system where home ownership was feasible for anyone who wanted that lifestyle of owning a home, but we very much do not.
Courtney: So I was looking at this critically, because now this HomeRoom company is kind of playing middleman between someone who owns a house – with a mortgage, usually. Like, it’s not people buying in cash, it’s people who are buying a house with a mortgage – and then telling this company to manage it and rent it out to young professionals. And so now I’m thinking, “Well, rent’s going to be sky-high.” Because now, you have two people who, at the end of the day, need to be paid. And that seems exploitative on a surface level – until you understand the actual local renting situation in counties like this. Because what they’re doing is taking these rather large homes, homes that naturally have probably four bedrooms each – maybe even five or six, I guess, just depending on the size; it’s a variety of different houses – and they’re renting each individual room to a different person. And of course, you have the shared living space. You have the living room, kitchen, laundry units that everyone shares. So it is very much a traditional roommate situation, but you’re not just finding your own roommates. The company is kind of matching you up with people and putting you together. And they’re all co-ed, but some of these prices are really hard to argue against for certain demographics, because some of these rooms are as low as $350 for rent a month.
Royce: And I know rent varies drastically across the US and in other countries. More than 10 years ago, like before I moved to Kansas City, when I was renting an old house in a college town with three other guys, the four of us were each paying $300 a month.
Courtney: Yeah. Housing costs have gone up by then.
Royce: Yeah, I haven’t – I mean, I haven’t had a single-bedroom apartment in the area in a long time now, but I think I was paying $600 or $700 at the time, 10 –
Courtney: Oh, it was at least double that.
Royce: – 10 years ago. And that was on the cheaper end of things.
Courtney: Yes, because you were really frugal when you were single.
Royce: I had loans to pay off.
Courtney: Of course! You went to college! So, first of all, that’s actually a good anecdote, because you had a roommate situation of four unrelated adults.
Royce: Which would have been illegal in this circumstance.
Courtney: Yes. And also – because everyone’s rebelling against this company, they don’t like the idea of this company – Royce, tell the people how you found those roommates.
Royce: Oh, yeah, that was a Craigslist ad. All of these roommates’ friends were convinced I was going to murder them.
Courtney: But hey, you didn’t get murdered either! [laughs] Because everyone was like, “Who answers a roommate ad on Craigslist?”
Royce: Funny story about potential murder. This house was weird.
Royce: It had a basement that was completely – like, we locked the door to the basement and just, like, kept it barred.
Royce: Because it went down into this concrete area that connected to other homes in the neighborhood.
Courtney: Ooh, why?
Royce: And one of my roommates was looking around there one time, just with a flashlight and found, like, bullet casings.
Courtney: You heard it here first, folks: we are now a true crime podcast. [laughs] We’re gonna investigate all of the unsolved murders and missing persons cases around that house. [laughs] Are we terribly sure it wasn’t the roommate that you were there to replace?
Royce: Oh, I have no idea.
Royce: I slipped into that housing situation because of financial reasons. One roommate was vehemently against having another person there, and the other two really wanted cheaper rent. But the issue was that past roommate, the person whose room I took –
Courtney: [dramatically] – was a murderer! [laughs]
Royce: – skipped signing some documents and then just left one day.
Courtney: Can’t leave a paper trail.
Royce: The other roommates came home and his room was just empty. Which is why –
Royce: Which is why having an actual middleman matchmaking service could be really beneficial.
Courtney: [laughs] This podcast is just going to become an ad for HomeRoom. So the thing is, the more I read about this company, the deeper I dug, the more I was like, “This actually sounds great, for the right person.” Because not only, like… You cannot rent anything I can think of, right now, for, I’m going to say, even under $500 in Johnson County.
Royce: Oh, no, not unless you’re – maybe if you’re going to an area far enough out where you’re actually getting into some country. But even then, I don’t know.
Courtney: I don’t even know if you’d be in Johnson County anymore at that point.
Royce: I don’t think you can hit $300, $400 rent without having some other people to go in on a property.
Courtney: Because, again, this is the wealthiest county in Kansas. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are living below their means here. It just – speaking averages here. But the issue is home prices are skyrocketing. And, in fact, home prices are up, like, nearly 40% from just since I’ve lived down here. And wages have not risen at the same rate, anywhere close to that. So there is, like, nearly 50% of people in Johnson County who are paying 30% or more of their income for rent, which is way too high. “The rent is too damn high.” Why is that seared into my brain? What is that from? …Oh, I remember “the rent is too damn high”! That had to be, like, in the 2000s, but it was someone who was actually running for a seat on something. I don’t know if he was in New York area, but that was his single issue, “the rent is too damn high.” Wow, what a blast from the past.
Royce: But to go back to what I was saying earlier, we’ve seen a lot of luxury apartments go up. And some of these luxury apartments have apartments that have monthly rent that is more expensive than going a couple of blocks over and renting an entire house with a lawn.
Courtney: Yeah, and –
Royce: And the political leaders of the cities and counties have been allowing luxury apartments to be built. And then when they sit half-empty, they pass laws to ban multiple people from living together in houses.
Courtney: Yeah, and these luxury apartments – we’ve got personal beef with them. They almost burned down our house. We are so fortunate to actually be homeowners. I do not want to minimize how grateful I am about that. But we own a house, and these luxury high-rise apartments got built on just an empty plot of land just a street away from us. And during construction, a massive fire broke out on a very windy day, and it was blowing embers all over the place. And several houses actually did get burned down. Because our house was built in the ’70s, and what was popular in the ’70s in Kansas was wooden shingles, wood shake shingles –
Royce: Yeah, luckily, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction of our house. I remember specifically, the fire was big enough and hot enough that it melted one of the local city’s brand new fire trucks.
Courtney: They had to call in fire trucks from, like, all the other cities in Johnson County. I’m sure Shawnee sent us fire trucks. [laughs] Because yes, it was a very, very big fire. I sat out on our porch and just watched the smoke and fire from afar. And yeah, the distance that the embers traveled and burned down houses on the opposite side of the apartment. If the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, 100%, our house would have gotten hit, because we had the same shingles, same distance away as all the other houses getting burned down, so like, yikes, that’s not great. But that has caused just general rent prices in the area to go up. Because, yeah, might be more expensive but it’s still not as expensive as those luxury apartments over there that just got built. So even older apartment complexes, smaller ones, their rent is getting hiked all the way up. And I don’t know what kind of people are actually living in these apartments. I’m flabbergasted, personally.
Royce: To be clear. The apartments we’re talking about are in the suburbs. They are not in a walkable downtown area.
Courtney: No, absolutely not. Like, we have our little suburban neighborhood with, like, cul-de-sacs, and there’s a local church on the corner a block away from us. We are just houses houses houses. Then you cross one street and it’s like, boom, luxury apartments, high-rise, multiple buildings of them, not walkable to anything. Because this is Kansas, and we don’t have good transportation in Johnson County, because everyone has cars here, because everything’s so spread out.
Royce: We don’t walk in Kansas.
Courtney: We don’t walk in Kansas.
Royce: Side note: I was just thinking about what is the most Midwestern thing you could possibly do, as opposed to walk, like riding a horse or something. There was literally one day when I drove to work and I had to stop because cows had broken out of somewhere that was – I don’t even know why people had cows in the city –
Royce: – but cows had gotten onto the highway, and a local police officer was trying to herd the cows off of the highway.
Courtney: I mean, it happens. I feel like we both grew up in areas where, like, there was probably that one kid who drove a tractor to school. [laughs]
Royce: Oh absolutely. There was a kid who drove a tractor to his driver’s ed license thing.
Courtney: And that was legal to do. [laughs]
Royce: No, because farm boys could get tractor driving licenses –
Royce: ’cause they go at really low speeds –
Royce: – at lower ages.
Royce: But people shouldn’t have cows near city highways! Like, keep the cows out of the city.
Courtney: I don’t know. I think that cows are pretty cool, personally. I’ll let them stay. [laughs] But that just brings us back to just kind of like how cool this HomeRoom company actually seems, because lower rent – rent in suburban areas, where, I mean, it’s an economic issue, but schools that are very good, very high-ranking in the country. It’s because they have a lot more funding than the schools with higher minority populations, higher populations of impoverished people. It is an issue. But of course, you know, young people who think, “Oh, I want to start my business here, and eventually, I want to start a family” – they’re very much trying to appeal to the people that want to put down roots in these good but expensive areas and can’t afford to do it on their own yet.
Courtney: And I cannot stress this enough: renters also want to live in nice places. But with all these apartments going up and with rent skyrocketing all over the place, Johnson County has tried to pass really half-hearted bills to make more, quote, “affordable housing.” And the recent big project that I can think of that they did was they basically rezoned several, what do you think, two-star hotels? Not big, luxurious hotels or anything, but like, two-star hotels that were around Johnson County. They rezoned them to be residential areas and are converting them into apartments, because of the fact that there just isn’t affordable rent anywhere. And I haven’t looked into costs of those, but they’re more than $400, I can pretty well guarantee. But also, this HomeRoom gives free maid service and lawn service, and I’ve just never heard of any rental situation that gives you that. And all of the public areas come fully furnished.
Royce: Don’t they also do some amount of renovations on the home itself?
Courtney: They renovate the home as soon as they partner with someone who’s going to take out the mortgage to buy the home. And then the person who gets a mortgage, buys the home, basically leases it to the company, leases it to HomeRoom. And then HomeRoom comes in, renovates the house to make it very, like, tech-friendly, very modern, sleek, and then they rent it out, by the room, to these young professionals. And so, it does seem like a pretty safe way, relatively speaking, to get matched with roommates, especially if you’re moving to a new area, someone coming into Kansas City for the first time. But I also read somewhere that if you’re a renter and you have an issue with where you’re living or your roommates, you can just, like, request to be relocated to a different house in the area with a 30-days notice. So you also aren’t totally trapped in a bad roommate situation. And your rent’s lower than you’ll get anywhere. And the person who bought the house is also getting money from HomeRoom leasing it from them.
Courtney: So I’m trying to figure out where, like, the evil and the exploitation is. [laughs] That’s what I’ve been looking at this whole time. I’m like, “What’s the catch?” Because it kind of seems like a win-win-win. But I wanted to consult those who are more educated on just the general housing situation than me, because obviously, we have our own personal observations from just living here. But no, people in charge of housing commissions, nonprofits, are all saying that it is a travesty that Shawnee has banned them. And this all came because of the fact that someone bought a house in Shawnee for the sake of leasing it to HomeRoom so that they could rent it out to young professionals, young aspiring entrepreneurs, or perhaps people getting their first job out of college. And so they started the renovation process. They came into the house, starting to renovate it, and neighbors were just asking people working on the house, like, “Hey, what are you doing?” And apparently, their answer was, “We’re changing the layout of the house to, like, add extra rooms”? And that really set the neighbors off. Because they were like, “Oh no, renters!”
Courtney: And I don’t know why it is the way that it is right now, but white conservative folks in this area who are… well, probably all conservative folks. I was going to say “above a certain age,” but I think that’s just more a product of who can afford houses right now [laughss] and who’s lived in neighborhoods their whole lives. They just loathe renters. And we’ve gotten that here in our neighborhood, too. There are people who just – the very concept of living next to someone who’s renting the house will set them on edge. And it’s got to be this pervasive myth about, like, “Oh, renters are going to drive down property values for the entire neighborhood.” Which is very much not true, because housing is going up everywhere! Everywhere. These luxury apartments are actually kind of helping the homeowners. Nobody’s needing to sell their house at a loss these days. It’s just not happening. But people have this notion that renters are going to wreck the houses they live in. They’re going to all have overgrown lawns. They’re not going to care about the neighborhood. They’re going to have parties; they’re going to have people coming over all the time. There are going to be so many cars in the driveway and parked on the streets, and it’s going to be a hassle. And they’re going to clutter up everything. And, like, they just don’t want renters in the area. They hate the concept.
Courtney: And reading the comments from some of these Councilmembers and neighbors who are advocating against this company – were saying all of these things. This was their issue. Their issue wasn’t, “Oh, there’s going to be four people living in that house.” Their issue was, “These are renters. We don’t want renters here.” And it’s gross and it’s ugly and I will never understand it. But to give you just an idea of the difference, and why I’m very much team HomeRoom right now, this house that they had – they were going to make it seven bedrooms. Presumably, from what I can tell, probably just under $400 in rent for each person. And I don’t have the exact square footage of this house, but I know what a lot of Shawnee houses look like; I don’t think they were giving everyone ridiculously puny bedrooms. I think they were really decently sized rooms. They now can’t do that. And they’re trying to now just rent out the whole house to one single person or one single couple. Royce, do you want to give me a guess at how much per month they are now trying to rent this single house out?
Royce: The entire house?
Courtney: The entire house.
Royce: Seven bedrooms?
Courtney: That’s what they were going to do. I think the house had four bedrooms and they were converting it to seven.
Royce: Okay. Okay. Oh, that’s hard. I’m thinking a four-bedroom house is probably going to be around 3,000 square feet, iIf not a little bit more. I don’t know how prices have changed since the last time we were trying to rent. Let’s say, like, $2200?
Courtney: That’s got to be easily double what an actual mortgage would be on that house.
Royce: Oh, absolutely. Well –
Courtney: Like, that is exorbitant for rent here.
Royce: I would say, not quite, not quite double. But yeah.
Courtney: Yeah, it depends. I guess right now, the housing market’s very weird, in particular, but.
Royce: I would assume a mortgage of about –
Courtney: If they bought it, like, a year ago –
Royce: $1800 or so.
Courtney: Yeah. So what you had was seven people who had affordable rent as an option –
Courtney: – with a free maid service, with free lawn service, and they also say that they inspect all maintenance requests within four hours, which, if that’s true and if they hold to that, that is better than any landlord I have ever had in my life. We went months with a faucet on our sink that didn’t work when we rented the one house that we rented. [laughs]
Royce: We had a particularly bad landlord. We got into fights with them – fights that we won eventually, but it was a it was a big headache.
Courtney: So, it sounds so good!
Royce: We had to look up laws.
Courtney: We had to look up laws. The number of times I’ve had to be, like, a lawyer for us and look over contracts or write contracts… Actually, let’s very quickly tell the story of that rental house, because it’s very fun. We actually rented a house right in this neighborhood where we bought a house. It was a different house, just a few doors down. We rented it. It was the first rental house we ever got together. We were so excited. We thought it was such a nice house. Turns out it was like the crappiest house in the entire neighborhood. And we think it might have been owned by Rush Limbaugh! Eew! But that was super weird. Because we don’t go out of our way to talk to neighbors, but the current president of the Homeowners’ Association – and we’re gonna talk about homeowners’ associations, I’m sorry to tell you, but you can’t leave, you have to hear us out. I’m holding you hostage [laughs], this silly little podcast where I’m going to rant about our HOA – but [laughs] the past president of the HOA came to talk to you. I wasn’t there. And what did he say? He was just like, “Oh, that’s Rush’s old house.”
Royce: Something like that. I got ambushed. I was mowing the lawn or something.
Courtney: See, for all the neighbors that complain about when we don’t mow our lawn, it’s because you try to talk to us when we do.
Courtney: If you left us alone, we’d mow our lawn more often. [laughs]
Royce: The thing is, I own a home for privacy, not for neighbors.
Courtney: [laughs] And not for doing yard work. But yeah, you got ambushed, and this guy was like, “Oh, welcome to the neighborhood. You’re in Rush’s house, I see.” And we just played that off as like, “Oh, it’s just got to be this local myth, just a story in the neighborhood. Like, aw, Rush Limbaugh lived here once.” But then we learned that Rush Limbaugh did actually live in this county. And then we realized that the housing management company that was managing our rental was literally called Rush Properties. And we were like, “Wait a minute. We need to get out of this house immediately.”
Courtney: “Should we just buy a house?” And then we were like, “Yeah, maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s time we bought a house. I think we can do it.” And then, like, a couple of days after having this conversation, this house that we currently own came up for sale. [laughs] And we were like, “Well!”
Royce: We were close enough that I single-handedly wheeled a fridge down the street.
Courtney: Literally walked the fridge down the street. [laughs] It was a sight to behold. Did you just rent a furniture dolly from, like…
Royce: From Home Depot, yeah.
Royce: I also – I don’t remember if I actually told you this – I had trouble figuring out which door to get out of, and I tried to take it out the garage before realizing that I could not do that, that was not an option, and totally fucked up one of the walls in the garage.
Royce: And the property inspectors did not notice it.
Courtney: Wow, so the secret’s come out. [laughs] So, yeah. So, we have literally rented and owned in this neighborhood, and so we’ve seen a lot of different sides. And $2700 a month for rent: a lot more than what we were paying for rent eight years ago. And this $2700 rent nonsense is kind of like one of those examples of “it’s more expensive to be poor,” because there are luxury apartments that cost more than that right now in the area, and that is more than a mortgage on a house where you’re actually working towards owning a home outright and getting equity in that property. But the reason why someone might be trapped into paying that much rent for that house and can’t buy it is because you need a down payment on the home. You need cash up front in order to get the mortgage. And you also need a very good credit history, which, if you had one screw-up in your past where you let payments lapse on a credit card or a loan, that can affect that, or you might just be a young professional and you just don’t have a credit history yet.
Royce: Oh, yeah. I didn’t have much of a credit history, aside from student loans, until we met, because I was thought the idea of borrowing money was stupid. Like, I only bought things that I could pay for with a debit card.
Courtney: Well, and even with student loans, like, good luck getting a student loan if you don’t have an adult who can cosign for you who already does have some level of established credit. Like, an 18-year-old with no credit history at all who doesn’t have a parent or a guardian or someone with a good credit history to cosign things for you, like, you’re just kind of shit out of luck.
Royce: Yeah. I mean college, for me, was me saving up while I was at home working while I was going to high school, my parents giving me a bit of money on top of that – learning that that barely made it a year in college, and then having to take out loans with my parents cosigning.
Courtney: And you were the lucky one between the two of us. [laughs] I didn’t have access to any of that. So, um, cancel student loans. Make college free. So, yeah, issue, first and foremost, is that homeowners in this area hate renters. They hate poor people. They cannot stand the thought of living next to someone who doesn’t own their own home. And that in itself is an issue. But then the issue came – and it is literally this one house from this one local company who’s trying to provide an easy, affordable option for people who can’t afford to live on their own yet. They had such a visceral reaction to this one house that they’re like, “We need to change the law to ban this company from doing this exact thing.” And then they did just absolutely massacre the wording on this ordinance. Because I found the zoning codes. I found the notes from the meeting where this was all established. I have actually been through all of these firsthand materials. It was originally reported that the council vote was an 8-0 ban, but I actually found out that it was 7-0 and 1 was not present. I don’t know if they would have said no if they were there anyway, but that’s a weird reporting thing that I learned.
Courtney: Here’s one of Kansas’s weird quirks, which is why a lot of the Aromantic Aces that I’ve been seeing who have been saying over and over that this is going to specifically target queerplatonic people, it’s going to target people who are living with friends that they love, but aren’t blood-related or related by marriage. This is literally, as per the ordinance in Shawnee, how they define a family. They define a family as “any number of related persons living together or not more than three unrelated adults living as a single housekeeping unit. Any minor related to a person covered by the definition of family is included in that family, including foster children and other legal custody arrangements of minors.” So regardless of whether or not you’re married, you’re domestic partnershipped, if you are living with people, the city considers you to be family, as per the law. That is legally what they are calling you.
Royce: So all of the polyamorous triads out there are still fine.
Courtney: Triads are fine.
Royce: Quads, not so much.
Courtney: Not so fine. Which is very irritating, because that’s so arbitrary.
Royce: There are also a lot of four-bedroom houses in the area, and –
Courtney: A lot of them!
Royce: There are a lot of them. And so for… it isn’t uncommon for people who are getting to retirement age to have had a property and to want to rent it. How many people are they inadvertently screwing over?
Courtney: They’re screwing over The Golden Girls! They’re making the Golden Girls illegal with this legislation! [laughs] Which is an issue. And yeah, because of course, another issue is, well, what about polyamorous families living together? And I totally understand that concern. It is a concern, based on the actual wording of this law. Because as per this law, you can’t even have two married couples living together, whether or not it’s two separate relationships, if it’s one relationship of four people, or if there’s some level of, I don’t know, is there a word for, like, “these two are in a relationship with these two but not that one” – is there a word for that? [laughs]
Royce: Shawnee just banned the horror scenario of the in-laws coming to stay with you for too long.
Courtney: We can’t put a positive spin on this story, Royce. [laughs] What are you doing? [laughs] So yes, it’s very odd. It’s very arbitrary. Because, yeah, like you said, there are a lot of four-bedroom houses. Most of these four-bedroom houses are kind of closer to five bedrooms, because there’s just, like, an extra bedroom, but it’s not considered a bedroom because it doesn’t have a closet, but you can very quickly and cheaply renovate it to have a closet, then it would be a bedroom. And that’s not even including the basement, and we all have basements because it’s Kansas and we have tornadoes. So, like, there is room. These are roomy suburban houses.
Courtney: And of course, one concern that I had, also on a very local level – because I know we have some even in our own neighborhood – was halfway houses. Because there are housing programs for… There are kind of a couple of different reasons why someone might be in a halfway house kind of structure. Either someone who is getting out of prison on kind of a parole-type situation where you’re still being monitored, but you have some level of new freedom and you’re living with other people in a similar situation to you, or in cases of drug addiction and rehabilitation, if you’re getting out of a rehab facility, you sort of have a halfway house where you live with other people and you’re sort of overseen by a caseworker and a specialist. And I think programs like this are great. And we’ve got a couple of houses like that in our neighborhood. They make fantastic neighbors. And still there’s always one crotchety old white man at every meeting who’s like, [crotchety old white man voice] “We’ve gotta keep an eye on those houses!” And it’s like, “Okay, calm down.” So I was concerned that this was going to stop those programs. And I don’t know. I haven’t actually gotten the answer, because the ordinance that I read from the City of Shawnee with all this new language and everything says that they do still allow group homes for disabled people, and I hope they consider drug addiction to be a disability, but it’s not actually defined in any the ordinances that I’ve been able to read. So, that’s a little up in the air, unfortunately.
Courtney: So, maybe now [laughs] would be a good time to talk about HOAs. Because HOAs are so ever-present in this area, and I think in Johnson County, Kansas, you’d be hard-pressed to purchase a house that isn’t under an established homeowners’ association. But there are other parts of the country who have never heard of such a thing. And especially when I talk about things like this to my international friends, they’re like, “What? How is that legal? What is going on?” And also really made me wonder where all of these people are making comments like, “This has to be illegal if they’re outlawing roommates. How can they do that?” It’s like, oh, honey. Have you ever heard of deed restrictions? Have you ever lived in an HOA? [laughs] You’d be surprised the shit they get away with! So now here’s where I must make a confession to all of you, the lovely listeners. I, Courtney Lane, am, unfortunately, the Vice President of my Homeowners’ Association.
Royce: Due to coercion.
Courtney: Coercion! [laughs] Okay, brief storytime on that. We lived in this neighborhood renting a house for a year. We knew immediately we were not going to renew that lease, because that housing company was horrific to us, and we just were not gonna suffer that kind of abuse. So then we bought this house and we’ve been here seven years, like seven years. And for the first couple of years, I did not have anything to do with any neighbors, no HOA, nothing. In fact, I had heard of these HOAs because I started studying the local history of the Kansas City area. And I started doing that because every time I was in downtown Kansas City, for an artsy event or anything that was sort of alternative or counterculture-y, there would be someone every single time who would be like, “Oh, those Johnson County bitches, those uppity rich Johnson County assholes,” and “Those Karens over in Johnson County and the white soccer moms in their minivans.” And they’d be saying this to me, not realizing that I lived in Johnson County, and I’d be like, [bewildered] “What is going on? What happened?” Because I just moved to Shawnee because that’s where you lived, and we just moved into this next city over because that’s the most convenient house we found when we were looking for something. [laughs]
Royce: I moved here because there were software jobs.
Courtney: Yes. [laughs] So, there was definitely a stigma of, like, “Oh, those uppity holier-than-thou Johnson County-ers,” and then people would be, like, aghast to find out that I lived in Johnson County. [laughs] And they’ll be like, “How can you stand it?” I’m like, “Honestly, I’ve never spoken to a single damn neighbor that I have. I just live there.” [laughs] But when we bought this house, I asked the former owners, to their face, “Are there any restrictions on what we can and can’t do with our house under the homeowners’ association?” And they told me “No.” I asked exactly the same question to the realtors who were selling the house and they said, “No.” So I thought, “Great!” And they said, “Well the HOA – the only reason why this neighborhood has an HOA is for trash pickup.” And I really hope that the microphone is actually picking up the fact that there is a garbage truck outside of her house right now, [laughs] because that is perfect timing.
[Transcriber note: the garbage truck is not audible.]
Royce: It’s 8:30 in the morning and we didn’t sleep last night.
Courtney: [laughs] Can’t you tell? We’re a little delirious today! Told ya we were gonna make this political, local, weird housing episode fun, [laughs] or at least we’ll try! So they said, “No, absolutely not. HOA’s super chill, super relaxed. The only reason why it’s here is because if the HOA pays for trash collection for the entire neighborhood, it is significantly cheaper for each individual house.” And we’re like, “Well, we like cheaper trash pickup. Great!” Because of course, when we bought the house, we were told, like, “Yeah, you’ll probably have to replace the roof pretty soon, before long.” And we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll keep that in the back of our head.” Until the frickin’ high-rise luxury apartment burns down [laughs] and sends embers of flame across our wooden roof! And we’re like, “Um, let’s expedite that, shall we?” And so I thought, “Okay, this will be great.” Never really heard another word from ’em. But every year, they’d have, like, a neighborhood meeting, a neighborhood HOA meeting. The first couple years, I was like, “I do not want to go to that.” And I think I was busy. I think I kept being out of town. There were a lot of, like, New York art shows and –
Royce: Things kept coming up specifically on the day of the neighborhood meeting, somehow, consistently.
Courtney: And that was fine. Like, I didn’t care to go. I might not have gone even if I was in town, even if I didn’t have work engagements. But there was one year where we were actually driving back into town – I think we’d gone up to Sioux Falls to visit my hometown for something important, I’m sure – and we were just driving back into town and we saw the little sign that’s like, “Neighborhood meeting starting at, like, 7:00 p.m.,” or whatever, and it was like an hour away.
Courtney: And so I’m exhausted from the car ride, but I thought, “You know what, what the hell, I’ll go and just see what it’s about, because I’ve never been in town for this before, see what’s going on.” And so I go in, and I’m wearing this, like, black lacy beaded Victorian gown with my purple top hat and dark makeup, and I am, like, easily the youngest person there by, like, at least a decade. But the thing is – and I did not anticipate this, I wanted to just hang in the back and just sort of sit and observe people, I did not expect neighbors to descend upon me. Especially because, you know, when you dress the way I do and you have dramatic makeup and kind of a weird look, and the fact that I was significantly younger than most of the people there – there were maybe two people who are decade older than me, but everyone else was like several decades older than me, to give you a demographic idea. I’m also pretty sure I was the least white person in the room. [laughs] That’s also important context. I thought they were just not going to want to talk to me. I thought they’d be giving me, like, the side-eye.
Courtney: But I did not realize that I had accidentally inadvertently become sort of like a point of gossip in the community. Because that was just a couple of months after Fox 4 News came to our house to film me in my home studio and talking about Victorian hair art and my work as an artist and a historian. And so, like, immediately, when I walked in, there were a couple of people who came right into me and they were like, “Oh, it’s you! We saw the news trucks at your house, and so we turned on Fox 4 to see what was going on, and we didn’t realize that there was a famous artist in the neighborhood!” And I was like, “Oh my goodness. Calm down, please. Please.” [laughs] It was very unexpected and very overwhelming. But apparently, some neighbors saw that we had news trucks in our driveway just a couple of months prior to this meeting, and they were so curious and they wanted to hear all about it. So I just, you know, answered the same questions I always have to answer when people find out that I have a particularly unusual line of work.
Courtney: And then the meeting started. And for the most part it was just like, “Yep. Here’s how much you have to pay for trash collection this year. Any questions? Any concerns?” There was, like, one woman who was complaining about how her neighbor has loud dogs who bark. And everyone’s like, “Well, I don’t really know what to do about that, sorry.” And then they said, “Great. Next order of business. We have an opening on the board of our HOA. Do we have any nominations?” And the freaking man who was sitting next to me, whose name I already had forgotten, said, [booming voice] “I nominate Courtney Lane,” and pointed at me very dramatically. And before I could even blink, someone else who was talking in this group of people is like, “I second that!” And that and then they were like, “Great! All in favor, say ‘aye’!” And the entire room said “Aye!” And I was like, “What just happened?” [laughs] And they were like, “You’ve just been appointed to the board of the HOA. Do you accept?” And I was like, “No.” [laughs] “Why? What? I am very busy. I do not want any part of this.” [laughs] And to that they were like, “No, no, no. Very low amount of time. Very low commitment. We have, like, three short meetings a year where we just check in with each other. And it’ll be at this guy’s house; it’s just a few doors down from yours, and he’ll give you cookies and he’ll give you wine or beer, whatever you want. And we’ll just hang out and touch base, like, three extra times a year.” And by this point, the entire room is like, “Yeah, do it.” And so, I just, I said, [tentatively] “Okay.” And then I came home, and Royce, you – [laughs] Royce did not come with me. You were like, “How was the meeting?” [laughs]
Royce: I was gonna say, if it wasn’t clear, I was not present for any of this.
Courtney: I came home and Royce says, “How was the meeting?” And I said, “I got nominated… to be on the board of directors for the HOA.” And Royce was like, “This is why I don’t go to meetings.” [laughs] Flawless logic. I shouldn’t have done it. But the thing is, I was very tempted to say no anyway, and I could have done, I could have walked away. I was very tempted to do so. But after all the weird people in Kansas City, Missouri, in downtown, like, artsy areas who were being so shady about Johnson County, I decided to dig into the history of just this general area and I found a whole lot of racism.
Royce: As you tend to do in American history.
Courtney: Yes, but I found a lot of racism that was specifically funneled through homeowners’ associations. And I was like, “Oh no. Oh no. Well, I guess I have to accept this and become a member of this board so that I can actually look at the documentation and look at the actual paperwork and make sure there’s no, just, like, old racist rule floating around somewhere that nobody’s even looked at in 30 years.” And boy, that was a headache. It took me, like, two years of hassling people to even find the bylaws. Because they kept saying, “Well, there are neighborhood bylaws that we have to abide by,” and I was like, “What are these bylaws you keep talking about? I have never seen them. No one has ever given them to me.” So I made them find it. I made them digitize all of them. I’m like, “We are scanning this and putting it on a shared Google Drive that anyone in the neighborhood can access.” And I found nothing overtly racist, but a lot of really, really antiquated, silly, ridiculous laws. Ridiculous laws.
Royce: Is this a good point in time to talk about what powers HOAs do and do not have in the US?
Courtney: Sure. So HOAs do have to abide by City laws. But the board of directors of the HOA kind of is like its own micro-City Council within a City Council. So, like, there can be HOA laws on top of City laws that are just extra restrictions. And this is where all my international friends are like, “They can do what now?” [laughs] And the thing is, ours, for the most part, has been very, very lazy. And that’s why no one even knew that we had these rules. But it’s because these laws, these bylaws, for our neighborhood were written in 1978 by the housing developers who built all of these houses. And the way these deed restrictions work, they are nearly impossible to overturn, like, nearly impossible to overturn.
Courtney: So for example, in our HOA, when I finally got all of these rules, all of these written and put in place by a company called Capital Funds Inc. in 1978, dictates exactly how big the houses need to be, how tall the houses need to be, how far back from the street they need to be, what you can and cannot do with your free space on your lawn. They say you cannot have any detached structures or outbuildings, so you just can’t build a shed in your backyard, no television antennas, no pergolas, or “any detached structure for purely ornamental purposes.” No backyard chickens – that one I hotly contested, because backyard chickens are great. Also, just ridiculous things, like, “No fences shall be erected or maintained on any of said lots without the express written consent of Capital Funds, Inc.” So if your fence breaks and you want to maintenance it, you have to get written permission to do that. And apparently, this is really low key compared to a lot of other HOAs in the area. And the thing is, trust me – and I am working so much harder than anyone else in the HOA, because everyone else right now is just very content to keep things as they were, but I’m like, “No, if we have laws, if we have contracts, I want to know what they say, and I want everyone in the neighborhood to know what they say.” Not because I want to enforce them, but because I want to overturn the entire system. I don’t think we should have these rules at all, period. But I kind of dug myself into a hole, because these damn things are nearly impossible to change.
Courtney: And they are ridiculous. Originally, in 1978, they wrote that you can only have wooden shingle roofs, and apparently, in, like, 1991, the entire neighborhood learned, “Oh, actually, maybe that’s a fire hazard. Maybe let’s not.” And in order to just change that, they had to have 75% of the occupants of the 58 homes vote to change that, with a notary public available to notarize all of the votes and document the change. And at this point in time, people are so apathetic about our homeowners’ association that there are only, like, 10 people who even show up to the neighborhood meeting. [laughs] So that’s nowhere near 75% of the 58 – more, if the houses are co-owned by more than one person. And I’m just absolutely livid. Because all these contracts are like, “This is set to renew every 20 years,” and it’s just going to keep renewing in perpetuity until you have a 75% vote to change something, and that’s per bylaw. And, like, the roof change is ridiculous too, because they still said that if you don’t have wood shingle roofs, you still have to get a roof that looks to be the same general color as those old [laughs] wooden shake shingles, and they provide you three acceptable brands with the exact color that you can get, and some of those don’t even exist anymore. Some of those do not even exist anymore, because products get discontinued all the time, you guys! Who thought this was a good idea? That was in 1996.
Courtney: So here I am saying, why are we being beholden to rules that were written by a bank in 1978? And why is it so impossible to overturn these? It’s because deed restrictions are ridiculous and they have a very racist history, and it was put in place to uphold white supremacy, and we’ll get there. But first, because we’re going to get heavy, I want to get light for a minute and tell you the one acceptable use of deed restrictions that I’m aware of, because this is actually a very good story. Not too far from us, here in Johnson County, Kansas, there is a suburb that is even more affluent than our own. It is, in fact, a gated community, ooh! And within this quiet, gated community of Johnson County, Kansas, there lives a cul-de-sac. And in the middle of that cul-de-sac is a two-horse cemetery. That’s right. Maybe you’ve heard of a one-horse town. But have you heard of a two-horse cemetery?
Courtney: Back in the day, Virginia Woolf’s cousin-in-law lived in Kansas and owned the only horse who ever won the Kentucky Derby to come from the state of Kansas. Now this is a great honor. So what he did was bury that horse and that horse’s father with full headstones, engraved, wrought-iron fence, put the trophy in a glass case with news clippings from the time. And this was all – like, at the time, it was all farmland, when these horses lived with Virginia Woolf’s cousin-in-law. I forget his actual name because his name isn’t important because it was Virginia Woolf’s cousin-in-law; Virginia Woolf is the bigger name here. [laughs] And it’s got this big sign. It says, like, Woolford Farms, but it’s like wrought-iron cemetery gates just for two headstones in the middle of a cul-de-sac in the middle of a big suburb [laughs] that is gated. And yes, I snuck in to see it. And yes, it was amazing. It’s so weird. But the way they got away with that was because when he sold this farmland to a housing development company that wanted to turn this into houses in a certain period of time, he wrote in the deed restrictions for that land, as part of the contract to sell it, that these graves stay. Nobody touches these graves. You can build houses if you want. You can do whatever you want with this other land, but these graves stay here, and that’s just law. That is, that is… That would not be easily overturned. [laughs] So now there is a cemetery for two horses in the middle of a cul-de-sac. And I love that so much I could die.
Courtney: But of course, that is the only acceptable deed restriction. Everything else is bullshit. Because yeah, I don’t know. Call me crazy, call me old-fashioned, but if I buy a house, I feel like I’ve bought the right to do what I want with that house. But if there’s a deed restriction that says, like, “This house can only be the color red.” Like, you actually have an intense, nearly impossible legal battle to paint that house anything other than red. And why? Why is that? It’s ridiculous. So, I do think this area is a little more strict than others, and I think HOAs are a little more common than others down here. Because when I lived in South Dakota, HOAs were, like, not a topic. It wasn’t a thing that was happening. But HOAs are under the City, technically, for legislation, so the city of Shawnee can legally do this.
Courtney: And the thing is, even if Shawnee didn’t do this, individual HOAs could. I would fight it tooth-and-nail, personally, but if our neighborhood decided “We don’t want to allow homeowners to rent out their houses anymore, period,” there are channels in place for getting that codified into the bylaws. I don’t think that should be the case, but it is. And one thing that people kept saying also was like, “How are they going to enforce this?” And they do actually say very explicitly that “Enforcement of this ordinance is handled on a complaint basis.” So it kind of seems like they made the law on a complaint basis. And if I suspect that the house next door to us is renting out to a lot of people, and if for some reason I just loathe the concept of renters and I think [exaggerated, snobby tone] they’re beneath me and beneath the neighborhood, [regular tone] I could go complain to the City and they’d send someone out to investigate. And this was, like, a month-long debate in the City of Shawnee, too.
Courtney: And from reports I’ve been reading and quotes that have been pulled out from these meetings, it sounds like renters have just been presented as irresponsible, poor, the scum of the earth, “they’re going to drive down all of our property values.” And even having people saying, “Well what happens when you get renters in here is that there are people who own their homes, and they’re going to care about the appearance, and they’re going to care about their biggest investment. And then you’ll have all these renters who just don’t care, and it’ll clash with a neighborhood.” It’s horrible.
Courtney: But why did homeowners associations get so popular in nearly impossible to abolish in this area? And a lot of it goes back to a fellow named J.C. Nichols, which really kind of hurts. Because this is such a big name in the area that even if you don’t know what he did or who he was, you know the name J.C. Nichols. One of the main stretches of road in Kansas City, Missouri is known as J.C. Nichols Parkway. There’s a park that has this big, beautiful fountain. Kansas City is – we’re known for our fountains, by the way, we’re the “City of Fountains,” we have fountains all over the place – big beautiful fountains of horses, and it’s massive and gorgeous, but it’s the J.C. Nichols Fountain. That’s actually the park where most of our major protests happened – the Black Lives Matter protest, the Women’s March – because it’s right by the Country Club Plaza, which is a shopping district, which also has inextricable ties to J.C. Nichols as the man. Actually, did they change the name of JC Nichols Parkway? I feel like that was a debate a few years ago, that some people wanted to change but some people were mad about it. Do you know where we ended on that?
Royce: I thought they changed it, but I can’t remember.
Courtney: Did they change it? They might have changed it. But I think they couldn’t change the fountain because the fountain was actually a donation from the family of J.C. Nichols, maybe? My pre-pandemic memory is hazy.
Royce: They changed both the parkway and the fountain in July of 2020.
Courtney: They did change the fountain, even!
Royce: The parkway was reverted back to its original name before J.C. Nichols, and the fountain is unnamed.
Courtney: What’s the street now?
Royce: Mill Creek Parkway. That’s what it was originally.
Courtney: Ohh, interesting. Okay. So update, they did change that. That’s probably for the best because this guy sucked. He was born in 1880, in Olathe, Kansas. Olathe, also Johnson, County. Olathe is right next to Shawnee, all these other places we’re talking about. And he had this vision for wealthy white suburban havens. And his whole passion was planning for permanence. They wanted to develop residential neighborhoods that would persistently function the way the original developers and residents intended, which, as perhaps you can well imagine, in, you know, around starting the 1920s, had very explicitly racist intentions. One of his biggest visions was the Country Club District, which took me a long time to actually connect to the Country Club Plaza, which is still there, which was right along that J.C. Nichols Parkway and that J.C. Nichols Fountain before they renamed it, because I’d always just heard people call it The Plaza. So the first time someone said “the Country Club Plaza,” I was like, “Where’s that? What? What? What plaza is this? Oh, it’s just The Plaza. Gotcha.” Sometimes it’s weird to move to a new place where everyone knows things about the city that you don’t. But he wanted to basically secure the wealth and the whiteness of this area by requiring that everyone belong to a homeowners association, where everyone abides by these extra set of rules enforced in individual neighborhoods that the City doesn’t necessarily do.
Courtney: And as the main developer of this subdivision, he did a couple of different things. You may be aware of the concept of redlining, which was a way for those with money and power, those who were white and influential, to essentially outline the communities where they did not want people of color moving into. And so they would actually work hand-in-hand with appraisers and realtors and even organizations like the Federal Housing Administration to systemically deny mortgages to Black families, to Jewish families, to basically families of any racial or ethnic minority that were not seen as quote “desirable” to have in these wealthy white suburban havens that they were envisioning. So J.C. Nichols, absolutely, he did that. But that was just the quiet part.
Courtney: The part they said out loud was that, in many of these homeowners’ associations popping up of the era, they explicitly wrote in the bylaws egregious things. I have one right in front of me now. And this is horrific and gross to hear. But section number two of this particular HOA I have in front of me: “Ownership by Negroes prohibited. None of said land may be conveyed to, used, owned or occupied by Negroes as owners or tenants.” That is a bylaw in a homeowners’ association that was written as overseen by people like J.C. Nichols. And he was so influential in the way HOAs and neighborhoods were developed that not only neighboring cities and counties in this area started to follow suit, but others all across the country actually gained inspiration from him as well. They called them quote “inharmonious racial groups.” And even though there was a Supreme Court ruling that deemed these racially restrictive deed restrictions to be unenforceable – this was, like, 1948 – some of the language from these just like still exists to this day, or have only existed until very recently when someone dug up this paperwork and went, “Oh wait!” So even though these specific restrictions are no longer legal and will be overturned if they are found, the lasting impact has had tremendous ripple effects. Because there are actually studies that have shown that Johnson County has diversified at a slower rate than the entire rest of the country.
Courtney: So when you factor in this exceptionally racist housing history of this very specific area, plus, the fact that this is the wealthiest county in the state of Kansas, and that housing prices have increased at exponential rates while wages have remained stagnant, to me, it is impossible to separate that from systemic forced poverty on minority groups. And although we are members of the Aspec community, we are exceptionally privy to LGBT issues, and we understand the implications of things that we often discuss, like amatonormativity, and how that sometimes can have a financial component because of the fact that legally sanctioned marriage does come with some level of financial and tax benefits – we’re aware of all of these things. But to see people who are not local in our community pick up this story and use zippy headlines and very attention-grabbing tweets saying “Aromantic people are under attack. Unmarried couples are under attack. Gay couples are under attack” – it just doesn’t sit right with me. It really doesn’t. I do want to have conversations about how there essentially is a financial incentive to have the nuclear family. I think that’s a valid conversation to have. But as someone who is local, who is familiar with the company that caused this whole concern, as someone who has both rented and owned a home in suburbs just like the ones that are being discussed here, and as someone who knows the history of the racist housing policies that brought us to this point, I just, I have no other answer than this is hatred of the poor and fear of minority races and ethnicities, plain and simple.
Courtney: This county is overwhelmingly white and it’s overwhelmingly rich, but I could hop on an interstate and in under 20 minutes, I will be in an overwhelmingly Black, overwhelmingly poor neighborhood, and that has explicit ties to J.C. Nichols and redlining and racist homeowners’ associations. And I still, to this day, living in this county, hear crotchety old people complaining about renters and raising these, in my opinion, false alarm bells of, like, “We don’t want renters driving down our housing property values.” It seems to me – I mean, I told you I am now, unfortunately, the Vice President of our HOA, and I feel like I am just the dissenting voice. I am the voice of apathy, and the voice of progressive values, and the voice of perhaps a younger generation, since I am pretty sure I’m the youngest one there – but I feel like I’m the only one who ever challenges them. They seem surprised every time I say, like, “No, calm down. That’s not a real concern.” Every time they say, “Oh, what if someone comes in and paints their house pink?! The entire neighborhood values will plummet! None of us will be able to sell our house!” It’s like no, actually. [laughs] With those high-rise apartments, with inflation, with the housing market right now being what it is, which is ridiculous, any one of us could sell our house tomorrow for a profit. [laughs]
Royce: Also, none of you are trying to sell your houses right now anyway.
Courtney: None of you are trying to sell your houses. And I have proof. Our literal next-door neighbor, the house directly next to us, sold their house back in December almost immediately. They had that thing closed in under a week on the market, it seemed.
Royce: And our lawn is kinda garbage.
Courtney: We have the worst lawn in the neighborhood, because we don’t want to use weed killer, and we have these huge trees that block out all of the sunlight, and grass isn’t supposed to grow in Kansas – not this type of grass. Not the type of lawn grass that we have. Lawns are ridiculous and nonsensical. And also we don’t want to mow the lawn because people try to talk to us when we do that. [laughs] So yeah, do we occasionally get an angry old man who will try to knock on our door to tell us that our grass is a little too long?
Royce: “You know, there are those city ordinances, right?”
Courtney: “I know, I’m the Vice President of the HOA, thank you very much!” [laughs] And so yeah, it’s just ridiculous. And the things they throw out there… They’re such talking points, too. And they’re just alarm bells that I’m sure they have heard at one point in their life and just internalized. Because we have renters in the neighborhood. We’ve been renters in the neighborhood. Never once have the values of this house gone down since we’ve lived in this neighborhood. Never once. They’ve consistently gone up, because that’s just the market right now in the area we live in. And in all of our bylaws, for how ridiculous some of these laws are, for how arbitrary and superfluous I think they are – they’ll pull out examples that aren’t even covered by the bylaws. They’ll be like, “What if someone wants a pink roof?” and I’ll say, like, “Well, we actually have one neighbor who has a pink door. We actually have another neighbor whose house is, like, a blush pink all over. It’s very light, and it’s very muted, and it’s very tasteful, but it is pink. So, like, who’s the arbiter of what parts of your house are or are not allowed to be pink? Please, tell me. Let’s document this if we’re going to have rules about what can and cannot be pink.” And then when I challenge them like that, they just, like, steer the conversation in another direction. They do not engage me at all. They’re just like, well, “I didn’t expect pushback.”
Courtney: And last time we had this – because this conversation comes up over and over because they think I’m too feisty and wanting to overturn these rules even though it will be damn near impossible for us to overturn any of them. I just want us to basically say we’re not going to enforce them, because I don’t want them to be enforced unequally. And it seems like for the last 10 years, no one even knew what these laws were. Literally, no one knew what these bylaws were, because I had to harass them to even get the documentation in front of my face. So I’m like, “Well, half the neighborhood has broken these already. [laughs] How are we going to enforce them?” They’re like, “Well, if you don’t know the laws, then shame on you.” It’s like, you didn’t know the laws until this year. [laughs] What are you talking about? But the last time we had this conversation, they said, “Well, you will think that we need to have these rules and you will be feeling bad if someone decides to paint their house purple.” And I deadpan looked him right in the eye and I said, “I literally am going to paint my house purple.” And they did not say anything. So I guess we have to paint our house purple now! [laughs] We have to do it. So that’s the kind of Vice President I am on the HOA. It’s not fun. It’s not fun. But I just want to make things easier for other homeowners.
Courtney: Because did you know – And here’s another thing that surprises every international friend I have when I talk about my woes on the Board of the HOA, [laughs] because I just hate it so much. But it’s kind of important, because if I wasn’t on it, someone who’s maybe a little more inclined to enforce these arbitrary rules would be. If our HOA really wanted to, we could literally impose fines on homeowners that break these rules. We could fine them thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars. And if they do not pay those fines, we can basically take it to court to have their house foreclosed on. It’s nonsense. There is no reason why anybody should have this much power, [laughs] let alone a small group of people very casually appointed to a Board within a single neighborhood.
Courtney: So abolish HOAs. Abolish all deed restrictions, except the one that says that that two-horse cemetery stays. Let HomeRoom and other co-living companies exist. And I guess my final thought on that matter is that, yes, there are some queer people who will suffer because of this, whether they’re just a young queer person who is looking for affordable living, whether they are in a polyamorous situation that does not fit the rigid confines of this specific language of this legislation… Oh, because I actually saw another tweet, I just remembered, where someone was also saying this is going to target childless couples. And actually, talking to local people, the couples with kids are actually a lot more likely to be affected by this. Because I heard from one woman who is married and they have two adult children, like 18 and 19, and one of their kids had, like, their girlfriend move in with them. And that technically, as per this law, makes all of them unrelated and makes that illegal. So someone complained about that. That could potentially be investigated. And it’s like, well, if the kids are adults, that’s going to affect people a lot more.
Courtney: So I just – I don’t like the co-opting of a buzzy headline to redirect attention away from the main demographic of people that are going to suffer. Because one of my favorite things to say for just about any issue, honestly, is bad legislation harms everyone, but it will disproportionately affect minority communities. And that can be minority racial. It can be sexual or romantic orientation minorities. It can go every which way. But given what I’ve personally observed here, this is class warfare with deeply entrenched racist bias. So please, if you are a white Aspec person who does not and has not ever lived in this area, please do not use this headline to center yourself. Is it bad legislation? Yes. Do I hope there are protests and that it gets backpedaled? Absolutely. Not defending the legislation. But I do want to keep the actual people who are most at risk of being affected by this front and center.
Courtney: And I honestly wish I could speak a little more to the actual polyamorous community in Johnson County, but it’s not been my experience that there is much of one. We attended as guests a polyamorous family meetup in Kansas City, Missouri once, with our friend who is polyamorous, who – she was actually living with us at the time, and there were multiple occasions where we had extra guests or visitors who were just staying with us for a weekend because we had the space for all of us easily. So we were just one adult away from being illegal there. So, do I think the number four is completely arbitrary? Yes. But I also think that that number was, for the most part, determined because that seems to be the minimum amount that these actual co-living companies like HomeRoom are going for when they look for houses to start renting out. They have not banned the entire concept of roommates, which is a take I have seen a lot of. They very explicitly say in the ordinance that you are still allowed to have roommates as long as it’s under the correct number of people. And of course, it’s so natural for people to think, you know, this is because landlords want more money, they want more money, they want everyone to pay more. And I honestly don’t even know it’s that deep [laughs] because it seems like the company they’re banning was trying to keep rent per person down. And of course, they have to make a profit at some point along the line. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be a company, a startup, a for-profit business.
Royce: Yeah, but the rest of the housing market, the rest of the rental market is so egregious that they are able to make enough of a profit to stay afloat with and still be competitive in their prices.
Courtney: Oh, yeah, I’m sure they would not have trouble filling those rooms for rent at that price, and with all the extra amenities, because normally, you don’t get extra amenities like that when you rent anyway. So, unless the wealthy mega-corporations popping up all of these high-rise apartments around here are, like, secretly sliding some cash under the table to the Shawnee City Council, I think this is more a case of, the City Council is prioritizing the comfort of homeowners over the rights of renters.
Courtney: So, that was a whole lot. Some of it was kind of weird. Some of it was personal. Some of it was historical. A lot of it was political. Hopefully, it was somewhat at least enlightening and entertaining for you. But we just kind of felt like we had to say something, considering the fact that this is such a local story that we know so much about, and yet the broader online Aspec community has just been going wild over this and sometimes adding misleading information or over-exaggerated facts, so we wanted to sort of add our perspective. Gosh, and I’m just so mad about it. They’re still gonna have a renter in the neighborhood. They’re not just going to turn around and sell that house, but now it’s just one person who’s going to spend a lot of money to rent that entire house, versus several people who could actually get a pretty good arrangement out of it. Ugh, it’s so infuriating. It really is. But I think that’s about all there is to say about that today. So until next time, remember to not buy a house that is within a homeowners’ association, and if you ever visit Johnson County, Kansas, make sure you sneak into the gated community to see the two-horse cemetery. I promise, it will be worth it.
Royce: Be gay, do crime?
Courtney: Also that. We’ll talk to you guys next time.