Government & Politics

KC expects $30 million federal grant to transform decrepit Chouteau Courts housing

The $30 million federal grant Kansas City applied for and expects to receive will benefit residents of Chouteau Courts such as Alisha Lucas and her children, including 4-year-old Antonio Jones.
The $30 million federal grant Kansas City applied for and expects to receive will benefit residents of Chouteau Courts such as Alisha Lucas and her children, including 4-year-old Antonio Jones. JTOYOSHIBA@KCSTAR.COM

For more than three years, Sebra Scrogum and other tenants of Chouteau Courts, Kansas City’s oldest and most decrepit public housing project, have dreamed and planned for the day when they can move and improve their lives.

On Monday, those ambitions should get a big boost.

Kansas City Housing Authority officials are expecting a formal announcement that they have won a coveted $30 million federal grant to demolish the Chouteau Courts low-income housing project and transform the surrounding Northeast area.

Kansas City officials expect a formal announcement Monday that they have won a coveted $30 million grant to transform the Chouteau Courts housing project and surrounding Northeast neighborhood. Sept. 25, 2015, by JILL TOYOSHIBA - JTOYOSHIBA@KCSTAR

“We’re anticipating that it’s happening,” Housing Authority board chairman Donovan Mouton said Friday, after receiving a media advisory that U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro is coming Monday to Kansas City to announce a major federal award for housing and neighborhood revitalization.

Mouton and other Housing Authority officials said they couldn’t comment further until Monday. But Kansas City applied for the $30 million grant in February and learned in July it was a finalist for the money. Five cities will be recipients of the highly competitive awards.

Scrogum, the tenant representative for Chouteau Courts’ 500 residents, said she’s been invited to Monday’s announcement.

“We’ve just been waiting for this day,” said Scrogum, who has lived there for six years with her two children and her mother. “It means we’ll be able to have newer housing that doesn’t have a whole lot of plumbing issues and foundation issues and is segregated from the neighborhood.”

City and housing authority officials have said it’s a priority to replace Chouteau Courts, built in 1958. It’s a vestige of an obsolete anti-poverty approach, when hundreds of low-income families were concentrated in drab, institutional apartment buildings that were isolated from other parts of the community.

Chouteau Courts is just northwest of Independence Avenue and the Paseo, bordered by Interstate 35 and with no real connection to the Northeast neighborhoods east of the Paseo.

It consists of multiple nondescript, three-story red brick buildings, with little greenspace and one small playground. And it was built on a hillside and on top of a old landfill that Housing Authority officials admit has unstable ground and settlement problems.

“We’re stuck right here in between Paseo and the highway. There’s no other neighbors other than the people you live with,” Scrogum said.

The buildings are also rife with maintenance problems, cracked walls, anemic air-conditioning systems, drafty windows and hard tile floors that are dangerous for kids who fall, said Alisha Lucas, who has lived in the complex with her five children for more than three years.

“They’re old,” said Lucas, who agreed tenants are hoping for a much better housing situation. “I’m ready to get out of here.”

The designated grant area, called the Paseo Gateway district, extends from I-35 to Chestnut Trafficway and from Cliff Drive to Ninth Street.

The plan calls for demolishing Chouteau Courts and relocating residents to smaller, mixed-income sites over the next five years. Many residents may be relocated to units in the designated district, but those wishing to move to the Northland will also be given that option.

The grant involves much more than housing.

It also aims to improve the area’s educational, health, business development and social services. It calls for providing better bus and bike access and infrastructure improvements, including redoing the congested intersection at Independence and the Paseo.

It also seeks to create a clean, safer environment and remove vacant, blighted properties to alleviate residents’ concerns about car thefts, other property and vice crimes and drug activity.

Another key feature is assistance for businesses, many of which are entrepreneurial ventures by immigrants and other diverse groups.

“There will be some training dollars, some business educational training opportunities,” said Bobbi Baker-Hughes, president of the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

She said that should help owners expand their businesses, “continuing the development and promoting our international marketplace.”

The nearby neighborhoods are also excited about the grant, said Leslie Caplan, president of the Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association.

“I think it’s a huge boost in the arm,” Caplan said, adding that it’s a chance to continue the momentum from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences’ growth and ongoing restoration of blighted but potentially beautiful homes.

“It gives us an opportunity to continue the rebirth and revival going on in historic Northeast,” she said, “and to head it west toward downtown.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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