Government & Politics

Kansas City is flooded with inquiries about dollar houses

Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte unveiled a budget proposal that calls for spending $10 million over the next two years to knock down 870 of the city’s most dangerous buildings, including several in the 2300 block of Chestnut Avenue.
Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte unveiled a budget proposal that calls for spending $10 million over the next two years to knock down 870 of the city’s most dangerous buildings, including several in the 2300 block of Chestnut Avenue. Special to the Star

Kansas City Council members and others have fielded hundreds of inquiries about the $1 house program, unveiled last week as part of the new budget proposal.

But city officials have words of caution for interested customers: Buyer beware.

These $1 houses are not just eyesores that need a little TLC. They are “dangerous buildings” that may have structural deficiencies and generally need significant repairs to roofs, windows, electrical systems, plumbing, heating, cooling and other features. They are not for the faint of heart, or wallet.

“They need major renovation,” said Ted Anderson, executive director of the Kansas City Land Bank, an agency that works with the Kansas City government and helps market vacant and abandoned properties.

Mayor Sly James last week touted a plan to spend $10 million over the next two years tearing down as many as 800 of the most dangerous abandoned homes in the city.

But the plan said some of those homes can be saved if people will buy them for $1 and fix them up for a new owner-occupant.

Anderson said that announcement prompted several hundred calls to the Land Bank and visits from more than 100 people to the agency offices at 4900 Swope Parkway.

City officials emphasized this is not as simple as plopping a dollar on a counter and getting a house.

The eligible properties are in the Land Bank inventory and also on the city’s dangerous buildings list. Right now, they number about 135 properties, primarily in urban core neighborhoods.

The list of homes is at kcmolandbank.org. They are available for purchase until April 1.

More information is also at kcmo.gov/neighborhoods/dollar-home-sale.

Anderson said his agency is planning open house tours and should have more details on its website in a week or so. He emphasized that people shouldn’t try to tour these homes themselves, since they are dangerous and many are dark and boarded up.

Interested parties can fill out a form, also available on the website, which the Land Bank will review. An application fee applies, and people must prove they can provide at least $8,500 for repairs, although the cost to make these structures habitable is often $30,000 or $40,000. A background check is also done.

If the people are qualified, the Land Bank will show them the home and lay out the scope of work required. If more than one party is interested in a particular property, the Land Bank board will choose the best proposal.

The Land Bank expects to review applications in May. The agency generally requires that exterior code violations be fixed within four months, weather permitting, and that renovations be completed in a year.

The Land Bank also has other homes in its inventory that are in better shape and can be purchased for two-thirds of the fair market value. Information on those properties is also on the website.

Several City Council members said they wished they had known about the $1 house program before the mayor announced it, since they got inquiries from constituents and didn’t have the answers.

But James said it’s his job, along with the city manager, to propose the new city budget, and now the City Council can weigh in.

Council members Alissia Canady and Quinton Lucas both said they hope some of the $10 million can be used to help get some of the dangerous buildings renovated and reoccupied instead of demolished.

Canady said the huge interest in the $1 home program shows the critical need for affordable housing and also the need for the city to create a loan loss reserve fund to promote homeownership in these distressed neighborhoods.

“I’m not promoting these houses,” she said, noting that they will take a special type of buyer skilled in home remodeling. “But it speaks to the desire to want to live in these areas. It speaks to the desire of people to want to revitalize and rehabilitate their community.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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