News consumers, we’re told, have grown jaded about disturbing images in their newspapers and on their TV screens. Even if that’s true, last week’s photos of Kansas City Mayor Sly James operating a bulldozer were pretty shocking, like grandma holding a hand grenade.
But let’s forgive the mayor the publicity stunt, because he was dramatizing one of the best policy choices City Hall has made in decades: a two-year, $8 million to $10 million effort to tear down some of the city’s most dangerous abandoned homes and buildings.
Like most urban areas, Kansas City is plagued by vacant homes, apartments, churches, schools, and other dilapidated structures. The dangerous buildings are an eyesore and a threat to public safety. They discourage homeowners from maintaining their own properties, while making code enforcement more difficult.
So good for the City Council for taking a step. But it’s only afirst
When the program is finished, after all, Kansas City will have 1,000 new vacant lots on its hands. For now, neighbors will be paid to cut the weeds and remove trash, but that solution will only work for awhile.
So the next step will involve persuading builders and developers to erect new homes and businesses on those lots.
One idea? Give home buyers the same tax breaks and incentives now showered on corporations. Buyers who build a new home or business on a central-city vacant lot, for example, wouldn’t be taxed on those improvements for a period of time.
Such a program might be extended to current homeowners as well. The city could agree to freeze property taxes for homeowners who put on a new roof, or pour a new driveway, providing even more incentives for rebuilding the urban core.
Then City Hall should turn its attention to the longer-term problem of demolishing dangerous and abandoned buildings — schools and churches will still close, malls will still go under, apartments will still be boarded up. By some estimates the city will still have 11,000 dangerous buildingsafter
the new program ends.
One answer might be a dangerous-building revolving demolition fund. Would-be developers would pay an up-front fee, with the money used for tearing down existing abandoned structures. Eventually, when today’s buildings begin to crumble, money would then be available to tear them down.
Developers might balk at such a plan, but neighborhoods without boarded-up properties might be a powerful incentive to builders.
And if persuasion failed, James could climb onto that bulldozer again. Maybe he could scare developers into helping fix a problem they helped create.