Nearly 20 years ago, U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple took over control of the Kansas City Housing Authority, saying the agency was saturated with political meddling and financial mismanagement.
Last week, Whipple issued an order returning the Housing Authority to local control. While the court will maintain monitoring oversight during a one-year transition period, Whipple’s decision recognizes that the agency is now well run, said Julie Levin, managing attorney for Legal Aid of Western Missouri, which filed the original lawsuit alleging bad management and horrible living conditions.
“The Housing Authority has made a remarkable transformation since it was placed in receivership in 1993,” Levin said in a statement. “Every unit of public housing has either been newly constructed or renovated. No other housing authority in the country has experienced such progress.”
Whipple’s order is the second in recent months that reduces federal court oversight of Kansas City housing functions. In March, U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner signaled he will soon end an eight-year receivership of the now-defunct Kansas City Housing and Economic Development Financial Corp.
Fenner’s action gives the Kansas City Housing Department and other city agencies more direct control over development in key urban core neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill.
In the case of the Housing Authority, Levin filed her class-action lawsuit on behalf of tenants in 1989, and the Housing Authority entered into a consent decree in 1991 to fix the deficiencies. But it failed to follow up, so Whipple took the extreme approach of clearing out all its employees and putting it into receivership in July 1993.
Since then, with the guidance of a Boston-based receiver, the agency has renovated or replaced nearly every public housing unit in Kansas City and has entered into development partnerships to create new mixed-income and affordable housing projects. It now provides housing or housing assistance to more than 10,000 low-income families, with a waiting list of nearly 9,000 families for public housing and 14,000 families seeking vouchers.
The agency has had stable management for years and has a well-rounded, well-trained board, said Edwin Lowndes, executive director for the past 12 years.
Ending payments to the receiver will save the agency nearly $100,000 per year in federal funds that can go for other purposes, Lowndes said. It also means that Mayor Sly James will appoint the new board members, beginning late this year.
The Housing Authority is an independent agency not run by the city, but having board members appointed by the mayor will further enhance the authority’s collaboration and partnership with the city, Lowndes said.