All six candidates for the Lawrence City Commission answered questions regarding criminal justice, housing, homelessness and more in a community forum Wednesday night.
The candidates present at the town hall — Ken Easthouse, Rob Sands, Joey Hentzler, Stuart Boley, Brad Finkeldei and Courtney Shipley — are vying to fill spots on the Lawrence City Commission. Three out of the five spots are open.
The event was co-hosted by KU Young Democrats, KU College Republicans, the Dole Student Advisory Board, the Student Legislative Action Committee, the ACLU of KU and the KU Economics Club. The town hall was held at the Burge Union.
Students in the participating organizations wrote the primary set of questions, while the remaining questions came from the audience.
One of the questions asked what efforts the candidates would take to keep housing prices affordable for low-income students who don't receive assistance from their parents.
As a renter himself, Easthouse said he is supportive of any measure the city commission can take to lower rent, including greater renter inspection programs and more housing.
“I feel your pain when you say rent prices are high in Lawrence — sometimes much higher than the jobs that are in the area will allow us to live,” Easthouse said. “It’s kind of a two-fold problem. One, we don’t have the necessary jobs that pay what you need to afford the rent, and also we have our housing stock, which is very condensed.”
Sands said he recalls when he saw the electricity shut back on and off as a student who was working two jobs to make ends meet. The best way to keep housing affordable for low-income students, he said, is to make housing-positive decisions, adopt housing-positive policies, increase density in appropriate places, increase mixed-field development and give people the choice on where and how they want to live.
In terms of housing, Boley said the main problem is the way housing was built.
“We have significant infrastructure issues in Lawrence, Kansas, and we will be talking about that when your children come to KU, frankly,” Boley said. “It’s a long-term problem that we have to come to terms with, and unfortunately, we have limited resources.”
Hentzler said the city should implement a vacancy tax to keep landlords accountable. He also said that the commission should look at Burlington, Vermont, as an example, where over 7% of their housing units are in their land trust, breaking the for-profit motive of housing.
Shipley added that the city has overbuilt student housing and hotels. She also said the city should watch out for Airbnb, which she predicts will drive regular and affordable housing out.
Another question asked the candidates whether the commissioners would appoint at least one KU student as a member of the Community Police Accountability Board.
Shipley pointed out that the city commission should take the other university in town — Haskell Indian Nations University — into consideration.
“Haskell has absolutely historically been clear about their feeling that they have been singularly harassed as students in this community for many, many years, and so I would add that in there that if we’re thinking about adding students to this board, which of course, would be a very good idea … any kind of person with experience in diversity, for lack of a better word, is really important on that board,” Shipley said.
Though he supports student involvement on the board, Sands said any student involved would have to be aware of the time commitment.
“We have to make them cognizant of the time commitment because a lot of reasons that some of this student representation came off these boards is because someone was appointed and frankly never showed up, so we can do better at that,” Sands said.
Hentzler said students should be appointed to all of the boards, even in quotas.
“In the news recently, we know that an individual from Lawrence Police Department came to the conclusion that a woman who approached the police department with accusation of sexual assault was lying within a day of talking to her,” Hentzler said. “These things require conversations at the very least and this review board will make sure that the community trusts our police as much as possible.”
Boley, on the other hand, said he has never thought about having students on the board but that he would be open to the idea.
Finkeldei said having KU students on specific boards would be useful.
“Certainly, I’d like to see more interaction between the city and the students,” Finkeldei said.
The general election will be on Nov. 5.