Demolish dangerous buildings and renovate houses to revive Kansas City

These are the kinds of houses Kansas City needs to tear down.
These are the kinds of houses Kansas City needs to tear down.

The proposed budget for Kansas City features aggressive plans to remove more than 800 dangerous buildings and to boost efforts to rehabilitate other vacant houses, especially in the urban core.

It’s about time.

Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte announced the initiative Thursday as they unveiled their joint 2016-17 budget. The City Council will weigh in with its view over the next six weeks before approving how to spend $1.5 billion starting May 1.

Some council members and neighborhood activists recently have pushed back against the idea that tearing down houses is in the city’s best interests. They say that option just leaves vacant lots and does little to revive a neighborhood.

They need to talk to Police Chief Darryl Forté.

He deserves credit for making the bulldozing of dangerous buildings a higher priority. Barely a month ago, the chief said, “If we demolish some of those houses, put curbs in, do streetlights, then I am confident we can reduce crime in those areas.”

The chief wants to reduce the number of houses his officers have to enter while on the hunt for illegal activities, often called in by neighborhood residents. His approach does have supporters on the council, such as Alissia Canady, and it garnered plenty of public attention.

The fact that James is strongly on-board is good news, too. After Forté brought the dangerous buildings idea to the police board, on which James serves, the mayor had seemed dismissive. “I didn’t take it as something he was seriously thinking about to be honest,” James said then. “If he is, then I guess we will talk about it at budget time.”

"I'd rather live next to vacant lot than a vacant building," Kansas City's mayor says.

Lo and behold, the budget pretty much sticks to the script Forté proposed. The city will borrow $10 million in a bond issue, which will finance tearing down the dangerous buildings over two years.

Here’s the other important part of the city’s strategy.

The mayor and city manager are proposing thoughtful ways to try to entice more renovation of vacant houses. Schulte said the city would sell some city-owned vacant buildings to individuals or developers for $1.

The budget also calls for more frequent trash cleanup and mowing of weeds on vacant lots.

James and Schulte have heard from opponents who want to reuse rather than tear down dangerous buildings. But the city recently gave a development group in Northeast Kansas City the opportunity to review almost 100 structures; it returned and said only about half a dozen were worth rehabilitation.

That’s indicative of the issue. Some derelict houses and buildings don’t deserve to be saved. Living next door to a vacant lot often is better than being next to a long-abandoned, vandalized structure that can be a haven for crime.

In approving the next budget, the City Council should make sure to include these targeted plans to eliminate blight and to invest in stronger neighborhoods.