KC housing project is likely to be razed and replaced with something better

One of Kansas City’s oldest — and least loved — housing projects could be demolished in a few years.

The Chouteau Courts apartments, built in the 1950s, sit northwest of Independence Avenue and the Paseo. Whenever someone applies for public housing, Chouteau Courts is always the last place they ask to move, officials say. Even people who live there want to see it razed.

“The place is in terrible condition,” said Karla Parker, a 10-year resident. “They need to tear it down, big time.”

That’s exactly what the Housing Authority of Kansas City wants to do. Last year, the agency won a $250,000 federal grant to write a transformation plan for replacing Chouteau Courts, possibly with market-rate apartments. Moreover, they want to work with other groups to improve the area’s basic services, such as education and public transportation.

It’s part of a larger effort by the federal government that encourages local housing authorities to replace complexes like Chouteau Courts with mixed-income neighborhoods — where poverty isn’t as concentrated, said Tiffany Thomas Smith, a Department of Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman.

Neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty suffer from a host of social ills, including limited access to jobs, education and public transit, she said.

It’s why many housing authorities across the country demolished their huge high-rise public housing years ago.

“It was the wrong concept,” said John Monroe, the Housing Authority’s director of planning and development. “It was warehousing poor people.”

Today, most of the city’s public housing facilities are townhomes or smaller apartment complexes.

Housing Authority officials hope that demolishing Chouteau Courts’ nearly 140 units — and deconcentrating poverty in the process — can help make way for something that improves the surrounding neighborhood.

“It’s much more about neighborhood revitalization as a whole,” said Julie Porter, the executive director of the Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corp., which is assisting the Housing Authority.

Housing Authority officials have been meeting with residents, businesses and others to get their input on what should take Chouteau Courts’ place.

One option would involve the Housing Authority working with a private developer to build new apartments leased at market rates, Monroe said.

Any new development would probably include some affordable-housing units, but most of Chouteau Courts’ current occupants would have to move elsewhere.

They might receive vouchers for Section 8 housing. Or they could find new homes in the Housing Authority’s “scattered site” housing, smaller public-housing complexes dispersed throughout the city.

If Chouteau Courts is ultimately demolished, a court order requires the Housing Authority to replace each unit destroyed somewhere else in Kansas City.

An eight-year resident of Chouteau Courts, Beverly Bailey, thinks it’s a good idea to revitalize the neighborhood around the housing complex, but she doesn’t want to live there if new apartments are built.

She hopes to qualify for a Section 8 voucher and move into a house. Most of her neighbors want to move somewhere else in the city, she added. She wants to live somewhere that isn’t so isolated, where she can enjoy easier access to stores and restaurants.

“There are a lot of people itching and ready for it,” Bailey said.

Not everyone is happy when former tenants of public housing move into their neighborhoods. Some researchers have argued that crime tends to follow Section 8 recipients when they move into a neighborhood, though other experts have challenged that theory.

Carol McClure, co-chair of the Southern Communities Coalition, has seen several Section 8 and scattered-site housing projects in her south Kansas City neighborhood. She worries about the impact on existing homeowners.

“The people, unfortunately, don’t take care of their property,” McClure said.

At a community meeting in November, some Old Northeast homeowners worried that Chouteau Courts’ residents would simply be relocated into new public housing in their neighborhoods.

Monroe denied that. If anything, he said, the Old Northeast area will probably see a net loss of public housing if Chouteau Courts is demolished.

Vernom Thomas Sr., who lives in Chouteau Courts with his two young children, said he wants to move somewhere else in Kansas City, partly because he felt insulted by homeowners’ fears that displaced residents might move into their neighborhoods.

“I would want to try somewhere else, based on that meeting,” Thomas said.

Some residents would like to see big-box retail stores take over Chouteau Courts’ spot. They point to the Glover plan, which brought a Costco and a Home Depot to midtown about 10 years ago.

They wouldn’t mind seeing an office park there. Or just a plain old park. After all, the property enjoys commanding views of downtown and the Northland.

“That’s an incredible piece of land,” said Kent Dicus, the president of the Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association.

Replacing Chouteau Courts is only part of the revitalization effort. The Housing Authority is also looking at ways to improve basic services in the area by teaming up with other institutions.

“You can’t just build housing units,” Porter of LISC said.

The revitalization plan might include a police substation. Or a realigned bus route, making it easier for residents to get to work, for example. Typically, HUD likes to see early-education programs included in these plans, too.

Before any of that can happen, though, the Housing Authority needs to win another, larger grant from HUD. That grant could be worth $20 million to $30 million.

Neighbors said they’re waiting to see what ultimately happens to Chouteau Courts. But they’re glad that officials want to revitalize that part of the Old Northeast.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Dicus said.