Earlier this month Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte proposed spending $10 million to deal with a problem that has long hampered Kansas City: dangerous buildings.
The plan calls for demolishing up to 850 houses and other structures and even selling some of the buildings for $1 for renovation.
But as I found out in a video tour Tuesday, the $1 houses are no bargains to restore.
Meanwhile, some criticism of the new plan is emerging, logically noting that it needs to be part of a more strategic review of the city’s housing woes.
City Council member Alissia Canady told me this week she’d like to see about $1 million of that money spent to rehab houses.
Council member Quinton Lucas upped the ante, saying up to $4 million could go for improving structures.
“Demolition is not a housing strategy,” Lucas said.
And council member Katheryn Shields said she hopes the city reviews the dangerous houses on the list to see if some are structurally sound enough to be restored or historically significant before toppling them.
Meanwhile, part of the crowd that doesn’t want to tear anything down in Kansas City has weighed in on social media, huffing that they, too, want to see a broader plan.
To all of this I say: Spending $10 million to get rid of hundreds of dangerous structures is part of a strategy, and a darn fine one.
Kansas City’s housing stock is in sorry shape in large parts of the East Side — but also in older neighborhoods north of the river and south in the Ruskin area. And remember: Thousands of other vacant houses that aren’t declared dangerous also can be rehabbed.
Why do these problems persist?
Because some people are too poor to take care of their properties. Some people don’t care to do the work to maintain them. Kansas City bankers who whine about how City Hall spends money won’t invest enough in poorer parts of the city. And, finally, the city hasn’t done a good enough job enforcing codes or using federal funds to boost housing stock.
To be very clear, Canady, Lucas and Shields agree that the city must get rid of many of the dangerous buildings it owns, as well as hundreds that are privately owned.
And it’s obvious that James and Schulte have kicked off a much-needed debate over what else to do to revive struggling neighborhoods.
As Shields said, she hopes the sudden unveiling of the $10 million proposal “morphs into a larger discussion on how to save our existing housing stock.”
Good news: The wheels are turning.
▪ Canady and James would like to see local banks more involved in lending on the East Side.
▪ Shields says the city should get behind Legal Aid of Western Missouri’s work to wrest control of vacant houses from absentee landlords into the hands of nonprofit groups that can find developers to rehab them.
▪ Lucas says working with the Urban Neighborhood Initiative — part of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Big 5 plan for improving neighborhoods — could lead to wiser investments in renovated housing.
Here’s another idea: City Hall should be aggressive and issue bonds for more than the planned $10 million. Use the excess for renovations focused on houes in certain neighborhoods, rather than simply scattered around the city.
True, getting rid of dangerous structures means neighbors then live near vacant lots instead. Don’t like vacant lots? Neither do many residents. But as Canady said, the overwhelming evidence is that people prefer a vacant lot over a long-empty structure.
Simply demolishing buildings is not the final answer to the long-standing housing problems facing Kansas City. But the city can’t miss this great opportunity to remove, to a large degree, a terribly blighting factor in poorer neighborhoods.