The Buzz

HUD secretary believes Kansas City’s low-cost housing efforts are on the rebound

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, left, tours a housing development on Kansas City’s west side Thursday with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, left, tours a housing development on Kansas City’s west side Thursday with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. Dave Helling/The Kansas City Star

Kansas City’s troubled relationship with federal housing services is largely a thing of the past, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said Thursday.

Castro was in Kansas City to meet with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and others on the city’s west side. He toured two housing projects built in part with federal funds.

Several years ago Kansas City faced serious problems with its primary conduit for federal housing funds, the Housing and Economic Development Finance Corp. HEDFC funneled millions of federal dollars into low-income housing projects across Kansas City, but it struggled with waste and fraud. In the most notorious case, HEDFC helped provide nearly $1 million to rebuild two homes on Tracy that were valued at less than $100,000.

HEDFC was eventually shut down and the city’s housing efforts were reorganized. Thursday, Castro told reporters the city’s housing efforts appear to be back on track.

“I’m confident improvement has been made and is being made,” Castro said. “I’m also convinced we always have to be vigilant … to make sure that money that gets allocated is well-spent.”

In the last fiscal year Kansas City received $7.5 million in Community Development Block Grants. It received roughly $3.5 million for subsidies for other housing programs.

Castro toured two housing developments Thursday. Both provide housing for low-income elderly.

There remains serious concern on the west side about a new housing project planned for the old West High School site. Last year the Kansas City Public Schools sold the building to Foutch Brothers, a local developer. The group plans to rehab the building into apartments, but they’re expected to rent at market rates — potentially crowding out those who live in low-cost housing in the neighborhood.

Castro was asked about the possible gentrification problem.

“We’re always willing to work with communities,” he said.

Some Democrats believe Castro, a former mayor in Texas, is on the short list of nominees for the 2016 national ticket.

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