Politics

Kansas City Land Bank’s dollar home sale for homeless stalls


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This house at 3807 East 68th St. is among those currently owned by the Land Bank of Kansas City.

ecuriel@kcstar.com

Homeless people were living in tents on the south lawn of city hall last March when Kansas City manager Brian Platt announced a plan to put roofs over their heads.

Platt proposed that the city’s Land Bank sell, for a dollar each, the more than 100 abandoned houses in its inventory to non-profit groups capable of making them livable again.

The groups also would have to provide social services to the poor and low-income folks who would live in them and offer low rent for at least 20 years.

“The Land Bank will soon be helping provide homes for those who are unhoused or at risk of becoming homeless,” the March 25 press release said.

Nearly eight months have passed, and that hasn’t happened.

No work has been done on any of the 111 structures offered for sale to qualified buyers only.

Critics say that Platt’s vision of an initiative that will “dramatically increase our affordable housing supply” and address the needs of “the most vulnerable families in our community” wasn’t well thought out.

“I was very suspicious of this being able to work. These Land Bank homes on the whole are in terrible shape,” said Erin Royals, outreach and research coordinator at the Centers for Neighborhoods within the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

”For you to be able to rehab these homes, you need to have the resources on your own or be able to link up with somebody who has them, but the city is not providing any kind of financial assistance.”

Most of the non-profit social service agencies that might have met the qualifications the city set out weren’t interested. Without the promise of heavy subsidies, no one could make the numbers work.

Each house needed tens of thousands of dollars of improvements or more to be made habitable. But the only eligible tenants under the city’s plan were people who would not be able to pay rents high enough that would allow the rehabbers to break even.

Although the city did not rule out providing some help, nowhere in its 18-page request for proposals did the city offer any guarantees of financial assistance.

In an interview Friday, Platt acknowledged the plan’s shortcomings, but said that since its unveiling the city has gotten federal stimulus funds that could be used to subsidize reconstruction of those houses.

He said the city will be putting out another request for proposals in the coming months. This time it also will be seeking proposals to build affordable housing on some of the more than 2,000 vacant lots on the Land Bank’s books that are suitable for development.

“One of the things we think is going to help drive interest is adding a larger volume of potential development opportunities.,” he said. “The other big change we’re looking at here is to provide more specific city support.”

The Land Bank program is part of the city’s commitment, he said, to adding 10,000 affordable housing units in Kansas City over the next five years.

When the deadline came in July, the Land Bank got only four responses to its dollar-home offer. Two were advanced in September to the city’s Homesteading Authority for further negotiations. Neither fully met the base requirements of the request for proposals, causing two of the five Land Bank commissioners to oppose that move.

Only one proposal has been discussed publicly and then only briefly at meetings of the Land Bank and Homesteading Authority boards last week. The response was from a for-profit developer called Circuit Avenue Partners LLC, whose proposal doesn’t involve rehabbing any of the 111 houses.

The Circuit Avenue plan under consideration involves building 40 to 50 units of affordable housing on 56 vacant lots owned by the Land Bank and Homesteading Authority on the East Side, according to a briefing three of Circuit Avenue’s principal partners gave the Homesteading Authority board last Monday.

According to that presentation, Circuit Avenue also has its sights on vacant property at 4610 E. 24th St., which was formerly home to Ashland Elementary School.

The building was demolished in 2000 and the Kansas City Public Schools has been trying to find a use for the one-square-block site ever since.

Talks are in their very early stages, said Shannon Jaax, the district’s director of planning and real estate. Before deciding on whether it would be appropriate to build affordable housing where the school once stood — everyone has a different definition of what affordable means, she said — the district first wants to get thoughts from neighbors who’ve grown accustomed to the green space for so many years, she said.

Circuit Avenue was co-founded by two recent Harvard University graduates, Ian Batts and Rob Rasmussen, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and are interested in building affordable housing in Kansas City and elsewhere, they said.

“We wanted to respond to the national shortage of affordable housing, and so we’ve put together a team to help identify solutions,” Batts told the Land Bank board earlier in the day.

Their partner on the Kansas City project is financier Rick Worner, who through the use of STAR Bonds arranged the financing for the Kansas Speedway and the surrounding development at Village West in Kansas City, Kansas.

“I’m a Kansas City guy and want to help Kansas City,” he told the city staffers who make up the Homesteading Authority board. “I’ve had a fair amount of success here.”

The other proposal that the Land Bank board of commissioners passed off to the Homesteading Authority for further evaluation was submitted by Will Block, who like the Circuit Avenue co-founders is under 30. His family has been prominent in real estate sales and development since the 1940s.

Block is vice president of development at Block Real Estate Services LLC, of which his father, Ken Block, is managing principal. Will Block is also president of a fairly new non-profit organization, ReNew KC Neighborhoods, which he thinks will benefit from his expertise and relationships he has in commercial real estate.

“I realized that I have all these connections and it’s probably best if I start doing something positive with them on the side, as opposed to just looking at them from a business perspective.”

Renew KC submitted a joint proposal with Community LINC, which provides emergency housing and other services for the homeless population.

Block said he was told by city officials that they are starting to looking over his plan, which calls for rehabbing four to six Land Bank houses, investing $50,000 to $75,000 in each. ReNew KC and Community LINC have set a fund raising goal of between $250,000 and $500,000. Ken Block has pledged to match initial donations of up to $200,000.

Community LINC would then provide programming and assistance to the occupants of those houses.

If that fundraising goal is reached, the partnership would launch a second campaign to raise $1.5 million to construct multiple homes.

In both cases, Block said the project will need some assistance from city government.

What of the remaining boarded up Land Bank houses that were set aside for the dollar-homes-for-the-homeless sale? Since last spring, they have not been available for purchase as they normally would. Usually anyone willing to pay two-thirds of their market value can buy them as long as they sign a deed of trust promising to invest a set dollar amount for improvements.

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Land Bank commissioner Brandon Gumm said when G.G. Owens, a member of the Land Bank Advisory Board, asked last Monday about when they might be put back on the open market.

“I don’t know if we have a plan today to put those properties back onto the website. But it brings up a good point that maybe we should and so we can definitely talk about that.”

The longer they sit empty, critics say, the more they will decay.

This story was originally published November 8, 2021 5:00 AM.

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Mike Hendricks grew up in Omaha and joined The Star’s reporting staff in 1985 after stints with two Iowa newspapers. He is a member of the investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or call 816 234 4738.





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