Editorials

What Mayor Sly James could do during his last 19 months in office

With the successful push to build a new single-terminal airport now behind Mayor Sly James, how should he spend his final 19 months in office?

Two words, really: East Side.

So many Kansas Citians who live east of Troost have long felt that City Hall was mostly interested in helping those who need it least.

City officials contest that, of course, and point to the map on their website that shows some $2.5 billion in investment there in the last five years. Voters only recently approved a one-eighth-cent sales tax for the Prospect Corridor.

There’s no disputing, though, that a lot more needs to be done.

The priorities James already has in mind for his last year and a half in office are all worthy of serious attention: replacing the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge, working with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance’s governing board to make neighborhoods safer, improving school readiness and — this one alone could be the work of a lifetime — encouraging a meaningful conversation on race.

But as a useful frame for the way to spend the mayor’s considerable remaining political capital, one of those who would like to succeed James, Councilman Scott Taylor, is onto something with his “Revive the East Side” initiative of tax abatements and investments.

Taylor wants the city to put $10 million more into a home repair program that helps residents remain in their homes, and make it easier for small developers to get regulatory approvals.

Sure, Taylor is kicking off his own 2019 campaign with this proposal, and he made that especially clear when he not-so-tacitly accused some of his expected rivals of inaction on the East Side: “We have 12 council members ... many that have served six years and newer members that have had over two years now and have had plenty of opportunity to introduce a comprehensive East Side package. But I have not seen it and believe our clock is ticking as a city.”

But so what?

The whole purpose of politics is supposed to be mobilizing for the common good, and the still-lagging East Side needs all of the love it can get.

One of the many issues that requires attention there, and ASAP, is housing insecurity among its many renters.

Recently, Harvard-trained housing researcher and Kansas City native Tara Raghuveer, whose work was cited in Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” shared her study of evictions in Kansas City during the last 17 years with city officials.

The problem, of course, is in no way unique to our town. On the contrary, Raghuveer pointed out that a person making minimum wage and working full-time can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment in a single county in the United States. But in Kansas City, the problem of the some 45 families who lose their homes every business day is concentrated on the city’s East Side.

A researcher who was helping her map data, but didn’t know Kansas City, took one look at the visual representation of where evictions happen here and asked, “What the heck is that line running through the middle of your city?” “The bright line, of course,” Raghuveer told officials at City Hall, “is Troost, the historic racial dividing line in this city.”

Eviction goes hand-in-hand with so many other problems — job loss, deteriorating health, educational gaps and more — that we hope James and whoever follows him will give serious thought to some of Raghuveer’s policy prescriptions, especially rent control, landlord regulation and more access to counsel.

We don’t doubt the sincerity of James’ protestations that he has always cared about and has already done a lot for the East Side, where he himself grew up. But the still dramatic gap between the two halves argues that he spend much of his last lap as mayor in the neighborhoods where he started.

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