VOTING GUIDE |
Last in a series of in-depth reports on key issues facing the city of Springfield and on candidates seeking city positions in the April 4 election.
The campaign season affords candidates for Springfield mayor and City Council the chance to sound off on issues ranging from homelessness, housing rentals, type of housing, nuisance properties, vacancies, and what exactly the city government’s role is in the overall housing picture.
Through a combination of one-on-one interviews and candidate forums, the Springfield Daily Citizen has compiled a candidate-by-candidate guide to housing as it relates to the April 4 election.
Voters citywide will cast ballots among two candidates for mayor, as well as two candidates each for General Seats C and D on the Council. Residents of City Council Zone 3 (central and southwest) will choose between two candidates seeking to replace Mike Schilling, while voters in Zones 1 and 2 will elect representatives who are unopposed (Monica Horton in Zone 1 and Abe McGull in Zone 2.)
First, some background on housing in Springfield: The average weekly wage for Greene County, calculated in the second quarter of 2022 using U.S. Census data, is $979, or an average of $46,992 per year. But Census data shows the average household income in Springfield trails that wage average, coming in at $39,991 per year.
It’s estimated that 68.9 percent of Springfield’s population pays between $500 and $999 per month in rent, and the fair market rent cost is $723 per month.
Meanwhile, the City of Springfield hired a team of consultants to examine issues of housing from several angles. The consultants reported their findings and delivered some recommendations to the Springfield City Council in the summer of 2022.
APD Urban Planning and Management started a comprehensive study of Springfield housing in November, but the results won’t be available until the candidates in April’s election have been in office for at least eight months.
One of the key preliminary findings was that about 33 percent of Springfield renters and homeowners put more than 30 percent of their income into rents or mortgage payments, utilities and other general housing costs. They also found that median rent rates — the average costs people actually pay per month for housing — run anywhere from $100 to $300 above the fair market rent rate, or the rent that the average renter would be able to afford based on income. Fair market rent rates are calculated through U.S. Census data and rental rates tenants report.
Monthly rent rates have climbed across Springfield over the past three years, and the problem accelerated as Springfield recovered from the economic constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic and a rising demand for housing.
Developers break ground on affordable housing project along Grant Avenue Parkway area
City officials along with the leaders of Flourish Community Development Corporation and DHTC Development broke ground March 27 on Nordic Landing, a 41-unit affordable housing project with eight apartments set aside for youth aging out of the foster care system.
Mayoral candidates: Ken McClure vs. Melanie Bach
Occupation: Mayor of Springfield/Retired vice president for administrative services at Missouri State University
Why he’s running: “We’re dealing with a post-pandemic environment, and that makes things almost unprecedented,” McClure said. “How do we make sure that we continue to progress, to continue to make good growth decisions, good economic decisions, good social decisions, good neighborhood decisions? And that’s a different challenge than we’ve had to face before.”
As McClure seeks a fourth and final consecutive term as mayor under the Springfield City Charter, he hopes to steer two years of a new life under the Forward SGF comprehensive plan. One of the plan’s key recommendations is for development and land zoning to undergo a change in philosophy. Quality becomes a top priority, trumping zoning ordinances that regulate land use and limits on what can be built.
“One of the most important results out of our comprehensive plan was the place-based zoning,” McClure said. “I totally embrace that. I think that gives us so many opportunities to get the balance right between development and neighborhood growth, and I think it will open up so many new avenues for us.”
McClure believes place-based zoning could spur more residential development as part of mixed use development projects across the city.
About 40 percent of Springfieldians own their homes.
“That is a very, very low number — much lower than the county, much lower than the state — it needs to increase,” McClure said. “The housing study is crucial for giving us a good feel of what our demographics are.”
One factor that impacts Springfield’s rental rate, McClure said, is the presence of three universities and an undergraduate student population of more than 25,000 students. College students are more apt to rent apartments while they are in school. For working Springfieldians who probably could afford to own a home with a bit of assistance, McClure wants to explore how the city government could get involved.
“We need to make down payment assistance available to people who need it,” McClure said. “I’ll cite teachers, I’ll cite law enforcement, police, fire, those need to be made available to those people, because it’s a shame when we can not have those type of stalwarts in our community afford to be able to buy a home.”
McClure is also supporting the passage of Missouri House Bill 587, “The Land Bank Act,” sponsored by State Rep. Bill Owen, R-Springfield.
The Land Bank Act has been approved by the Missouri House and awaits debate and a possible vote in the Missouri Senate.
House Bill 587 would allow certain cities to establish land banks, by which a local government could take possession of land when the owner historically does not pay property taxes. Property owners would have opportunities to pay their back taxes before the land bank could take possession of the property. The land bank would then have five years to sell the property, according to House Bill 587.
McClure said a Greene County land bank could result in neglected property being turned over and sold to owners who would care for the property and then develop it.
At a Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) candidate forum at National Avenue Christian Church March 7, McClure discussed rental unit inspection programs, which are usually intended to keep rental property from falling into disarray. However, such programs are not always popular with voters.
“The other aspect is that there is a political reality,” McClure said. “We’ve not had the best of luck in this city over several years of rental inspections. We need to figure out how best to make sure that properties are appropriately cared for, that they are appropriately addressed and that people are safe in them.”
Occupation: Neighborhood organizer/former records clerk
Why she’s running: “I am ready to rebuild trust between the city and our citizens,” Bach said. “I feel like there is a level of trust that’s been lost. People do feel disregarded and marginalized, for the most part, when they’re dealing with city government, and I want us to rebuild that level of trust.”
Like McClure, Bach also supports the idea of payment assistance or down payment matching programs in some capacity.
“The vacancies are not just in certain areas of town,” Bach said. “I live on a regular block behind Sequiota Park, homes built in the ‘70s, and out of maybe 30 homes we have seven vacant, so I think we need to explore the reasons for those vacancies and see if we can come up with some creative solutions to encourage those property owners to make those homes available for rent or ownership.”
“When we go from rentership to home ownership is when you first start to build equity in the community,” Bach said. “You come out of poverty often, and you start to be invested in your community, and you care about what’s around you and who your neighbors are, and make sure that things are taken care of.”
At the candidate forum March 7, Bach brought up Springfield’s past with regulating multifamily housing and apartment complex development.
“In 2005, a lot of people were concerned about a rapid development of multi-family apartments, and there was a one-year moratorium placed on any multi-family developments in the city of Springfield, and that’s when our multi-family matrix was developed,” Bach said.
Bach equated the matrix to a scorecard for developers “that tells them just how dense they can make a development,” and criticized the matrix for offering developers an assurance that their projects would gain approval from the Springfield City Council.
“If we’re at 60 percent rentership, maybe that approach did not work,” Bach said. “I would love to see us keep a promise to placemaking and neighborhoods over a promise to a scorecard.”
Like McClure, Bach is not sure about a full-scale rental inspection program across Springfield, but for her, it’s more directed toward the work of Springfield Building Development Services (BDS).
“I think BDS is too backed up, and if they’re going to inspect every rental property, then these landlords that are good landlords are going to be suffering because they’re not going to get people in those homes in a timely manner,” Bach said.
Bach suggested the City of Springfield could contract out the rental inspection program to a third-party company.
Bach said she supports toughening the penalties on rental property owners who commit more than one ordinance violation, or rack up a history of violations. She also suggested Springfield can refund some inspection fees to landlords who accumulate positive histories.
“If you don’t cut your grass one time, it’s a certain amount, if you don’t do it twice, it’s more and more,” Bach said. “And I would also love to see us reward some good landlords.”
General D: Bruce Adib-Yazdi vs. Derek Lee (replacing Richard Ollis)
Occupation: Civil engineer
Why he’s running: “I have always been involved in service, and so when my kids were little we did everything from foster care to working through our church,” Lee said. “Servant leadership is something that I’ve always done.”
Working through the framework of Forward SGF, Lee said, will help create more spaces in Springfield where people will want to live and enjoy destination spots. If elected, Lee wants to use his influence as a city council member to encourage neighborhood strengthening.
“We’re not going to build new subdivisions where single family homes are there, and so I think we do need to build pride in neighborhoods,” Lee said.
To help build pride, Lee said people need to feel safe in their own neighborhoods.
“The No. 1 thing that I hear from people is security, and right now the police chief — he said that crimes against people and crimes against property were down 18 percent,” Lee said. “The council made that a focus, and that’s the kind of thing that I want to do. I want to continue with that. We’re not at all out of the woods. On average, there is a shot fired every day in the city of Springfield.”
In a one-on-one interview, Lee sung the praises of Restore SGF, an effort to refurbish homes on the verge of falling into disrepair. Outgoing Councilman Richard Ollis is one of the program’s founders, and wants to restore homes in historic neighborhoods to the point where they can be owner-occupied.
“If you read Restore Springfield, it involves giving assistance to people where they can own their own homes,” Lee said. “Those things, to me, get very little press, but I think that those are the biggest keys.”
“I think we spend a lot of time talking about seven acres in Springfield where people are arguing with each other, but we’ve got thousands of acres of single-family homes that need to be improved,” Lee said.
Occupation: Architect, Vecino Group
Why he’s running: “I can see what we can be if we can just get out of our own way and think about, as an architect, what’s our vision for what we want to be 20 years from now?” Adib-Yazdi said.
Adib-Yazdi said his experience as an architect qualifies him to look at a broad topic, then drill down to focus on small tasks and find solutions to the issues surrounding a project.
“The city has got a global view of ‘How did we get here and what’s our current situation?’” Adib-Yazdi said. “And then to come up with thoughts, ideas and plans to slowly, one house, one block, one neighborhood at a time try to bring our housing stock back to some semblance of ownership versus rentals.”
Today, certain neighborhoods are attractive for landlords and property management companies to buy homes at lower values, then recoup their investment by making rental units.
“We’ve got neighborhoods who have suffered from disinvestment over time, those neighborhoods have then gotten to the point where a lot of the houses in that neighborhood have been picked up by people who are buying them to rent them,” Adib-Yazdi said.
Some neighborhoods are doing very well, Adib-Yazdi said, while others fall into a middle ground where some property is well cared for by homeowners, and other houses are falling into states of disrepair.
“The city’s role in all of this is really complicated. They can’t just go say, ‘Here, go do this,’ or ‘Here, go do that,’ right?” Adib-Yazdi said.” “I think it’s all about having a plan, which we now have, to create higher density, higher diversity of housing types across the city.”
That also means diversifying the types of properties up for rent.
Adib-Yazdi said it’s also important for Springfield to remember its place as the center city in a metropolitan area.
“You realize Springfield is what’s known as a core community unlike — sometimes people compare us to northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville and Bentonville, but there’s not a core community there,” Adib-Yazdi said. “It’s four individuals that have come together. Here, as a core community, we seem to have lost many residents to the outlying areas. They live, work, play in their hometown or just outside the city limits, and then come to town for work or shopping or whatever, and then go back. That’s one of the reasons for our current percentage of rental rates, that people have simply moved out of the area, built new homes or bought new homes somewhere else that they thought was more in line with their family values.”
General C: Jeremy Dean vs. Callie Carroll (replacing Andrew Lear)
Occupation: Vice President, Business Development and Shareholder Relations Officer at Old Missouri Bank
Why she’s running: “Communication and relationship building — if I stood on two platforms of what I bring to the table, that’s it,” Carroll said. “I am an uplifting, optimistic person, and I think even in the climate of now, there are so many things to be proud about in Springfield. We need to put those at the front.”
Carroll looks at Springfield’s housing issues through an economic lens.
“It’s supply and demand,” Carroll said. “We don’t have enough of it right now. If you and I are trying to find an apartment, this is our budget, there are only 10 open ones to choose from, obviously, they’re going to be expensive. If we have more, the price is going to come down.”
Carroll discussed her history working as a morning news anchor in Greenville, Mississippi. It’s in Mississippi’s Delta Region, and is the largest city in Washington County, a county of about 50,000 people. In spite of Greenville’s size, Carroll gained firsthand experience with the challenges of finding a decent place to live.
“For me to live in a safe space, this is 10 years ago, I was paying $850 a month for my apartment, and I was making popcorn for a salary,” Carroll said. “That was ridiculous, but there was no other option. I had one apartment to choose from in that town.”
Carroll identifies reducing crime as a top priority toward enticing people to want to live in Springfield.
“We have these people in these outer communities that would potentially want to live in Springfield if there was an option,” Carroll said. “We’re going to continue to grow, which is great, but we’re going to have to have housing for these people. We have to.”
To tackle housing issues in Springfield, Carroll said she will combine her business acumen from banking and a researching and strategic planning background from working as a journalist.
“Springfield is a great place to live,” Carroll said. “I choose to have my career here, I’ve chosen to invest in this community. Let’s talk about our problems from a lens of ‘This place is great, but we have things to figure out.’”
Occupation: Office coordinator in an OB/GYN clinic at CoxHealth
Why he’s running: “I saw myself representing the average Springfieldian, and hadn’t seen that on our actual city council by most of our representatives for a while,” Dean said. “This race would have gone unopposed had I not run for it, so that was one of the reasons that I did it this year.”
Before starting a one-on-one discussion of housing, Dean disclosed he is among the 60 percent of Springfield residents who have landlords.
“I am a renter myself, so I fall within that 59, 60 percent there,” Dean said. “I know the struggles and the easy parts of renting.”
There are layers of government at play in Springfield’s housing picture, but Dean said the City Council’s first task is to get a comprehensive view of the situation.
“There’s a lot that has to be done on the state level and federal, but as far as city council, I think it’s really looking at what type of development we’re bringing into Springfield,” Dean said.
Dean said government officials could also persuade builders to rethink their plans and, “figure out how we can get these investors in our area rather than building these really nice luxury areas, working with them, bringing in businesses that actually pay living family wages rather than just the minimum wage, so people can actually afford to move out of their houses.”
Dean brought up wages across Springfield in both one-on-one conversations and at campaign events. For Dean, wages and home equity are closely tied.
“When you look at an economy, especially municipal, you know one of the main things that shows economic vitality is home ownership, so with over half of our people not having home ownership, it shows a real problem that we have there,” Dean said.
Finally, Dean believes the Springfield City Council has a role to play in working with neighborhood associations to tackle issues of housing, development and redevelopment.
“We have to look at the neighborhoods we’re building it in to ensure that it fits within their neighborhood codes, deed restrictions and all that,” Dean said. “We don’t want to make neighborhoods mad. I think that generally most neighbors in Springfield are for affordable housing.”
Zone 3: Brandon Jenson vs. David Nokes (southwest Springfield, replacing Mike Schilling)
Occupation: Retired police officer
Why he’s running: “Citizens supported me for 28 years in Springfield, being an officer, this is a time to pay back,” Nokes said. “It’s a tough job. I’m just excited to be back involved in a leadership position where I can make a difference. It sounds corny, but I can make a difference in this city.”
Drawing from his policing background, Nokes said Springfield’s desirability as a place to live is tied to public safety and the prevalence of crime.
“Do you have a high expectation of being safe in Springfield, or do you have a low expectation of being safe in Springfield?” Nokes said.
Nokes believes the City Council needs to work to identify areas where affordable housing can be built, and to identify ways to lessen the cost burden for building those houses or apartments.
“Springfield is an affordable place to live,” Nokes said. “Our cost of living is low, that’s what attracts people to Springfield, that’s why we had population growth these past 10 years.”
At the same time, Springfield wasn’t growing in a vacuum. The suburbs also grew and are still growing.
“We’re in competition with other cities, so look at Republic, Nixa, Ozark — maybe we got to them and say, ‘What are you guys doing right? How many layers of bureaucracy do you have? What’s the cost of doing business with your taxes and permits?’” Nokes said.
Comparisons, Nokes said, could lead to some adjustments for housing developments.
“Look at the built-in costs for a developer,” Nokes said, pointing to permits and fees associated with building on a piece of property in Springfield and complying with regulations.
“I think you have to provide an environment that attracts affordable housing,” Nokes said. “Developers develop because of demand of the product, so you have to look at providing an environment that identifies areas where you could put affordable housing in.”
Occupation: Community manager, Missouri Community Development Block Grant program
Why he’s running: “I recognized that my ability to affect change and ensure the change is reflective of what the community says they want is really only possible at the highest level, so at our elected official level,” Jenson said. “My parents always said if you’ve got the skills and the passion to do a job, then that’s the time to do it.”
Jenson believes there should be some incentives for affordable housing developments, but that doesn’t mean development should be incentivized in a way where there are a disproportionate amount of incentives for rental housing.
“There is a matrix that the city uses to evaluate multi-family developments,” Jenson said. “As I understand, it doesn’t differentiate between whether a multi-family development is going to be owner occupied or renter occupied.
Not everyone wants to own a home, Jenson said.
“It’s important to note that I don’t see rentership as necessarily a bad thing,” Jenson said. “I mean, not everybody has the financial capacity or the desire to become a homeowner.”
But if a person has the means to buy, it’s important for Springfield to have the type of place they can afford and want to live in.
“We also are missing quite a wide range of housing stock within our community, and I’m not sure that our zoning regulations as they stand right now necessarily allow for the easy development of true townhomes, or courtyard apartments, or condos, for that matter,” Jenson said. “So that market has responded to that, and so we primarily see only single family construction and multi-family rental housing.”
A zoning code update could do a great deal, Jenson said, to facilitate the development of more diverse types of houses.
“The second is making sure that we’re allocating our financial resources appropriately to support housing development,” Jenson said. “The city receives a number of federal grants each year that they allocate under their annual action plan that’s required to be submitted to HUD, and so a lot of those funds, at least on the CDBG side, seem to be focused more toward housing service agencies and supporting the work that they do.”
Through his volunteer work with the Ozarks Housing Collaborative, Jenson said there is often money available through federal vouchers to place people into housing, but there is a shortage of property owners willing to allow their property to be used for such programs.
To vote April 4, 2023
Voter registration is closed
No excuse absentee voting is available at the Greene County Elections Center, 1126 North Boonville Ave., Monday-Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., up to and including April 3, and also will be available at the Elections Center on Saturday, April 1, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In-person absentee voting will be available at the Library Center Tuesday-Friday, March 28-31, and Monday, April 3, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Please note that in order to vote in-person absentee, by statute voters must present one of the following forms of photo identification:
- A non-expired Missouri driver or non-driver license
- A non-expired military ID, including a veteran’s ID card
- A non-expired United States passport
- Another photo ID issued by the United States or the state of Missouri which is either not expired or expired after the date of the most recent general election.
Information on absentee voting, election regulations and polling locations
Greene County Clerk-issued sample ballot