A set of award-winning affordable housing developments has come under unusual scrutiny in Kansas City, Mo.
The properties, which have undergone a major rehabilitation in recent years, are in good physical shape. However, a city report is pointing a finger at them for “social blight.”
For some, this move appears to be a NIMBY tactic to take over the properties, which are home to more than 400 residents in 303 project-based Sec. 8 units in a gentrifying neighborhood.
The recent city report has raised big concerns with the residents, the affordable housing owner, and officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They fear the curious finding of social blight could open the door for the city to seize the buildings through eminent domain.
“If they are successful, who know who’s next,” says Laura Burns, president and CEO, of The Eagle Point Cos., the Maine-based firm that acquired the properties in 2006. Since then, the firm has spent about $31 million in rehabbing buildings that were in disrepair. It also reduced the number of units from 349.
The properties—Bainbridge Apartments, Georgian Court, and Linda Vista Apartments—have even won several national and regional awards since being acquired by Eagle Point, including the J. Timothy Anderson Award for outstanding rehabilitation and preservation from the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association and the Preserve Missouri Honor Award from Missouri Preservation.
Burns says she has never seen the idea of social blight used against an affordable housing development. She adds that the city had not contacted Eagle Point before or during the time of the study.
(Burns is a member of Affordable Housing Finance’s Editorial Advisory Board.)
Eagle Point and regional HUD officials stress that the properties along Armour Boulevard are well managed and far from blighted. HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center scores have notably improved at each of the properties since Eagle Point acquired the developments.
The physical state of the properties is also confirmed by the city report. A consultant performed a perimeter inspection of one of the developments last June. “The property was renovated in 2007 and remains in good to excellent condition,” says the study.
Instead, the report recommends a finding of blight due to a high level of crime even though it notes that “the last three years of crime data would suggest the level of crime has declined.”
Interviews with a group of residents, property owners, and business owners in the neighborhood were held. “While most of the participants believed much of the crime activity was tied to a small number of residents within the Bainbridge, a few thought the best way to ride the crime problems would be to shut down the property,” says the report.
Eagle Point says data from security firms contracted to protect residents and properties shows that calls to police are down five-fold since 2010. In addition, the company and local police have been working to encourage calls to the police to deter crime, says Burns.
She acknowledges that more work needs to be done at the properties but says problems in the larger neighborhood are being wrongly attributed to the apartments.
HUD confirms that Eagle Point’s security measures exceed those of most ownership of HUD-assisted properties.
The developments, which have long-term Housing Assistance Payment contracts and other restrictions to remain affordable housing, are home to a large African-American population. A finding of blight could raise potential Fair Housing concerns, according to some observers.
Burns says she is eager to work with the city to resolve the situation.
The city Plan Commission has had the issue on and off its agenda. A spokesman said the city isn’t commenting much about the issue at this time because it wants to give the neighborhood and owners to work out some of the issues.
Meanwhile residents have launched a petition calling on city officials to reject the blight study.
“I am also concerned about the shaky legal and ethical grounds by which the city-commissioned study deemed the Bainbridge as ‘blighted,’” reads the petition. “The study itself admits that the metrics used for such a designation are highly subjective and lacking substantial precedence. If such a loose definition of blight can be applied and used to seize a property by eminent domain, what will stop influential city and neighborhood leaders from applying the same metrics wherever they see new opportunities for development? What stops the influential few from using this new definition of blight to ‘assist with the relocation’ of any neighbor they believe does not belong in Hyde Park?”
To read a copy of the blight study, click here.