Kansas City affordable housing advocates cheered in 2015 when the city won a prestigious $30 million federal grant to demolish and replace the decrepit Chouteau Courts public housing project south of the Missouri River.
But now, that grant is prompting outraged jeers from affluent Northland neighborhoods near the proposed site for some of the replacement low-income housing. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition against the 6.5-acre site, one mile west of Metro North Mall, at N.W. Barry Road and N. Platte Purchase Drive.
Opponents emphasize the backlash isn’t racism but reflects concern that the site won’t provide the amenities public housing residents need. They believe the prominent corner should be developed instead for commercial use that will generate revenue for the city.
“We’ve organized a lot of subdivisions in the past two weeks that say this is a bad project to have here,” said Wayne Saint Vincent, a board member of the Barry Harbor homes association, one of several neighborhoods that object to the plan.
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Kansas City Housing Authority officials and their partners at Brinshore Development, LLC of Northbrook, Ill., respond that the multimillion-dollar project would be high quality, mixed-income housing like other successful projects in Kansas City and elsewhere. They also emphasize the site isn’t a done deal and more community dialogue is coming.
“We understand people’s concerns. We really do,” said David Brint, chief executive officer of Brinshore, adding all options are on the table, including exploring other sites.
But some replacement low-income housing should be located in the Northland, said John Monroe, director of planning and development for the Kansas City Housing Authority.
“We have an inordinate concentration of subsidized housing south of the river,” Monroe said, noting that Jackson County has 8,147 low-income housing units, while Clay County has only 616 and Platte County only 136, even though the Northland has half the city’s land mass.
The controversy has surfaced because Kansas City won a competitive $30 million federal “Choice Neighborhoods” grant in September 2015, to relocate 134 units and several hundred residents from Chouteau Courts, Kansas City’s most obsolete 1960s-era public housing project, near Independence Avenue and The Paseo. Kansas City was one of just five cities to win the grant that year.
Most of the replacement housing will be in new and rebuilt housing units in Northeast area neighborhoods east of downtown that welcome the improvements. Much progress is already underway on those developments.
But one reason Kansas City’s grant proposal won was because it also provided the “choice” of some suburban units for public housing residents, with access to good schools, job opportunities and services.
These low-income units would be blended into the larger mixed-income development, indistinguishable from the market-rate units.
For example, the Barry Road site would have 75-90 total units, a mix of apartments, duplexes and townhomes. Of those, 25-30 units would be for public housing families. Half the units would be market rate and the remaining 12 to 15 units would be “workforce housing” with income limits of $40,440 for two-bedroom units. The project would use some of the federal grant money but also a mix of other financial investments.
The search is also on for a second Northland site for another 80-unit development, including about 27 public housing units.
Last fall, the Housing Authority and Brinshore proposed developing some replacement housing on Housing Authority-owned land at N.E. 48th Street and N.E. Randolph Road, near Worlds of Fun. But surrounding neighborhoods strenuously objected, saying that area already had a subsidized housing concentration and lacked good public transportation, schools or other amenities.
So Brinshore hired a professional planning firm, which looked at about 25 possible Northland sites. The Barry Road and Platte Purchase Drive site, next to Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts and available for purchase from MD Management, rose to the top of the list.
Brinshore planned to meet July 5 with a small group of neighborhood leaders for what they considered a preliminary discussion. But word spread and 175 area residents showed up for what everyone agrees was a brutal meeting.
“The room erupted,” Saint Vincent said, noting that residents complained vociferously that they hadn’t been consulted and weren’t getting full information. They worried about crime, traffic, poor land use and impact on property values for homes worth $180,000 to $350,000. Plus, they didn’t think the site would serve low-income residents’ needs, saying it lacks good bus service and close access to jobs, grocery stores and other amenities.
Brinshore and Housing Authority officials disagree.
“There is a bus that runs up and down Barry Road twice per hour,” Monroe said, adding that many tenants have cars. He said St. Luke’s Health System and Children’s Mercy Hospital have health care facilities on Barry Road. An elementary school is nearby, along with retail sites that could provide jobs.
Paula Leppert, president of Timber Hills association, with 70 homes just south of the proposed site, said she has heard Brinshore does good quality developments and that’s encouraging. But she still believes it’s the wrong location.
“This area is single family homes,” she said. “To put that kind of high density housing in an already congested intersection would be problematic.”
Saint Vincent and others suggested there are struggling Northland locations that could benefit from the grant investment.
Monroe thinks residents misconstrue what would be developed. This isn’t old-style public housing with a high concentration of poor people. All units are built to market rate standards. He pointed to Willow Glen apartments and townhomes, NW 72nd Street and N. Broadway, as a well-maintained mixed-income Housing Authority project in the Northland with more than 100 households.
Villa Del Sol townhomes opened in 1999 on the West Side and has 120 households. Beacon Park townhomes opened in 2011 with 45 households at 26th and Vine streets. Both of those projects, Monroe said, are in close proximity to very expensive single family homes and have not hurt property values. Since they were built, he said, crime in those areas has declined.
Several officials in Chicago-area suburbs say Brinshore has a good track record for this type of development, although those projects were smaller than what’s contemplated in Kansas City.
Brinshore’s 32-unit mixed-income Emerson Square development in Evanston, Ill., was built in 2013 and has fit in well with a largely single-family residential area, said Sarah Flax, housing and grant administrator for Evanston.
In 2015, an Evanston news report headlined a spike in crime at that development. Flax said that was exaggerated. “There was one problem tenant. The tenant was evicted through a due process,” she said, adding that overall it’s been well-received and property values have appreciated.
In Highland Park, an affluent Chicago suburb, Brinshore developed the 14-unit mixed-income Hyacinth Place in 2008. It developed the 60-unit senior living Sunset Woods, 12 of which were affordable, in 2002.
Both are beautiful, successful developments, said Betsy Lassar, who was Highland Park’s housing planner when Hyacinth Place was built. She said that project was in the midst of a predominantly single-family area and there were neighborhood concerns, but Brinshore worked through those collaboratively with residents.
Kansas City, North, residents say Brinshore and the Housing Authority got off to a terrible start with this project, and it will take considerable fence mending.
Todd Lieberman, who heads Brinshore’s Kansas City office, said they’re willing to take a step back, working with Northland Neighborhoods Inc., neighborhood leaders and others. They will look at how the grant money can improve an area, with services and infrastructure improvements. He said any development would likely need city council approval, which will require community buy-in.
Under the grant schedule, they have about a year to identify a preferred site, so they can complete construction by 2021.
“We want to spend the next year, quicker if possible,” Lieberman said. “We want this to be a constructive conversation moving forward.”