Residents of Chouteau Courts deserve better than the isolation and stigma long associated with Kansas City public housing.
Fortunately, conditions are about to improve. Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on Monday announced that Kansas City was selected for a much-sought $30 million federal grant to move the 500 residents, raze Chouteau Courts and replace it with new housing, much of it in Northeast area neighborhoods. Kansas City is one of five cities picked for the five-year grant.
Chouteau Courts, built in 1958, is a Kansas City Housing Authority property northeast of Independence Avenue and the Paseo but cut off by Interstate 35 from the rest of the Northeast area.
Tearing down the three-story, red brick buildings, most beset by plumbing and foundation problems, will rid the city of a dysfunctional relic of earlier anti-poverty policies. Current Chouteau Court residents will get first pick once new housing is built.
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Concentrating and cutting off low-income, mostly minority residents from other people and neighborhoods has long been a recipe for public housing failure. It has helped to lock children and families in generational cycles of poverty. The new plan, which includes housing for homeless people, has the potential to change lives in an older part of Kansas City, and it bodes well for the future of the Northeast area.
The grant includes improving education, business development, social services and health in the neighborhood. Castro’s announcement took place outside Samuel U. Rodgers Community Health Center, which provides medical care for area residents.
The HUD grant is for the area being called the Paseo Gateway district. It covers a large part of the urban core from I-35 to Chestnut Trafficway and from Cliff Drive to Ninth Street. Castro praised the collaboration of many Kansas City organizations on the grant proposal, including the United Way of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City Public Schools, the Housing Authority, City Hall and Northeast area groups. “This is the way it should be done,” he said.
The money will build on improvements already taking place in the Northeast, including the expansion of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, ongoing renovation of housing and commercial construction, which are attracting new residents and businesses.
“This is a huge deal for Kansas City,” Mayor Sly James said. It adds to his push to direct new attention and resources to the long-neglected area.
The East Side also will benefit from the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, which was announced late last week.
It is to open about a year from now in Parade Park in the 18th and Vine District just north of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Financing is coming from Major League Baseball, its players association and local and state governments.
The Kansas City Royals will put in $500,000 to start to cover operating costs. Four fields will be added, at a cost of $6.5 million, with the goal of generating new interest in baseball among area families and youths. Parade Park also will receive upgrades.
The planned $7.5 million second phase would include construction of an indoor practice facility along with office space, classrooms and concession stands. The indoor facility is tentatively set to open in the spring of 2017.
That announcement came as the Royals celebrated winning the division championship for the first time in 30 years.
Many residents of the Northeast and East Side have been waiting at least that long to see progress in their neighborhoods. The dramatic announcements of the past week are a huge win for them and for Kansas City.