Preventing suburban decay has become a priority for Overland Park.
As some residential areas of the city grow shabbier and more crime-prone, the city is taking steps toward revitalization, focusing on neighborhoods that are sliding downhill and rental properties that are deteriorating.
After hearing recommendations from the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Plan Steering Committee at its committee of the whole meeting Monday night, the council is directing city staff to proceed with developing two new program initiatives: asset-based neighborhood planning and the rental licensing and inspection program.
Asset-based neighborhood planning aims to rejuvenate residential areas that have gone downhill. It will identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each neighborhood, and come up with solutions with the help of everyone from community leaders to residents.
Upon reviewing factors, such as absentee ownership, crime, property maintenance and low income, the city established that the two neighborhoods with the greatest risk of decline were Timberland Creek and Elmhurst, so that is where the city will start.
The rental licensing and inspection program addresses disturbing trends, such as a high number of code violations each year and an increase in crime, particularly in multi-family complexes.
To address those trends, the program will require annual inspections of all rental properties to help prompt landlords to maintain their properties and require an annual license of all rental residential properties.
The program will also offer background screening of tenants, require a base level of training to landlords, or their staff, and offer training to tenants.
Jack Messer, director of Planning and Development Services, said the cost of the program could be up to $860,000 annually, but that is a worst-case estimate. Even so, there could be a 100 percent cost recovery if the city charges an annual licensing fee of $6 per month.
The council agreed the programs were vital to the city’s well-being.
“We have rapidly changing demographics in Overland Park and we can either get in front of the wave or drown in it,” said Councilman Terry Goodman. “We have to do something. Unfortunately, there are some immoral and unethical landlords and there are people desperate for housing, because they can’t afford a home. When those two things combine, it’s not a good marriage.”
Councilman Richard Collins added that he hoped landlords see the city’s new program as an opportunity to create a better environment.
“Failure to go along with this effort could be detrimental to everyone in the long run,” he pointed out.
John Douglass, Shawnee Mission School security director and former Overland Park police chief, echoed that sentiment. He thinks it’s particularly important that landlords use background checks on prospective tenants to weed out the irresponsible ones.
With irresponsible tenants come irresponsible parents, he pointed out.
In his new job, Douglass has heard about everything from elementary school kids threatening violence against teachers to young students destroying classrooms.
He told the governing body that he worries about the future of Overland Park, as those unruly children grow old enough to drive, adding mobility to their violence.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to live in Overland Park — nobody should be excluded,” Douglass said. “But people should abide by the rules and act responsibly.”
The council agreed.
Many of them pointed out the programs were important in two ways — to fix the present problems and prevent future decay.
“Overland Park made the decision years ago that we were going to be the densest city in the metro area,” Councilman Curt Skoog said. “We would welcome apartments and rental properties to the community and we continue to do so. I think it’s a strength of our community. But now it’s our responsibility to make sure those business owners run their businesses responsibly.”