Gentrification concerns raised over plans near Kansas City's jazz district

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Archie Williams has lived in the Parade Park Homes complex just east of 18th and Vine for 41 years and savors the neighborhood’s proud African-American heritage.
Donna Jackson has lived there more than 30 years and now has a daughter and grandchildren living with her.
John Jackson grew up there in the 1960s and moved back several years ago, lives next to his mother and is raising a daughter, twin boys and a nephew there.
All three want to continue living in Parade Park Homes Inc., a 510-unit affordable housing cooperative, for the long haul. But they and some of their neighbors fear that an ambitious $76 million redevelopment plan for the cooperative may price them out of their homes.
“I can start by expressing concerns of that term gentrification,” Williams said, referring to a situation where investors “come in and redevelop it in a way that is too expensive for the existing population.”
Parade Park Homes is notable as one of the nation’s first African-American housing cooperatives. Monthly charges now range from $450 to $700, but under the preliminary redevelopment proposal, new units could cost from $625 to more than $1,200 a month.
Four other longtime residents are so worried that they have filed a lawsuit challenging the co-op board’s governance and trying to stop the development plan. A hearing is scheduled to begin June 15 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Supporters for the redevelopment say it’s still in the very early planning stages and could change. But they also argue it’s a good concept for preserving this important and historic urban-core community, bounded by Truman Road on the north, Woodland Avenue on the west, 18th Street on the south and Brooklyn Avenue on the east.
They say they are exploring ways to ensure continued affordability for the existing families while bringing in new central city residents with a variety of new villas and town homes.
“The board is very interested in pursuing other resources to help support families who would like to continue to live in Parade Park Homes,” said Herb Hardwick, attorney for Parade Park Homes Inc. “It would be more expensive, but there are other ways to help subsidize the cost.”
Hardwick and other supporters are urging the court not to halt the board from managing the co-op in a responsible way and pursing a positive future for the community.
Board secretary Constance Mahone, who has lived in Parade Park Homes since 1978, said many neighbors support the proposal by Dalmark, a real estate company with a good track record that also owns and renovated the attractive Basie Court Apartments at 19th Street and Woodland Avenue.
This debate surfaces just as the city has embarked on a $14 million urban youth baseball academy at Parade Park, just west of the housing complex, and as the City Council is poised to consider $27 million in further improvements to the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District.
Residents of Parade Park Homes say they want to be around to experience those improvements.
Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed, who represents the Third Council District that includes Parade Park Homes, said his conversations with both sides suggest the majority of residents support the redevelopment plan. But he realizes there’s lots of angst. He said he’s exploring the possibility of city funding to help ensure people who want to remain in Parade Park Homes can.
“I’m trying to work through whatever that best solution is to have affordable housing for the residents,” Reed said.
Third District at-large City Councilman Quinton Lucas is confident a positive resolution can be reached, although he doesn’t yet know how.
“I think it’s vitally important that we keep those folks around, and as a sign to the community that we care about the long-term survival of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods,” he said.
Parade Park Homes was incorporated in August 1963. While residents don’t own individual units, they are investors in the cooperative. They make maintenance and ownership decisions collectively and can pass units to their children. They pay “carrying charges” rather than rent and have a bigger stake than traditional renters.
For decades it was recognized in Kansas City planning documents as one of the most stable and healthy urban-core neighborhoods.
But occupancy began dropping about 10 years ago and has declined to the point that more than 170 of the 510 units are now vacant. Meanwhile, some say the monthly charges that residents pay did not rise sufficiently in recent years to maintain the property in a sustainable way.
The board brought Dalmark on in March 2015 to manage the property and try to turn things around.
Dalmark owner Jim Nichols said his company has experience revitalizing troubled properties and has taken several steps over the past year to stabilize Parade Park Homes’ finances and get about a dozen of the vacant units re-occupied.
But he said the complex has significant, costly deferred maintenance issues, and many units are in bad shape. New construction may be the preferred and more financially practical option.
“Everything has met its life expectancy,” Nichols said, pointing to the need to overhaul roofs, mechanical systems and other infrastructure. Plus, he said, many elderly residents want single-story units instead of the available two-story setup. Units also need to be modernized with more bathrooms and contemporary amenities.
After meetings to hear residents’ ideas, Nichols said the company has proposed 344 units, including 88 single-story villas to appeal to seniors plus multiple two-and three-bedroom town homes, both affordable and market rate.
Hardwick said about $25 million to $30 million of the $76 million could be financed with low-income housing tax credits.
Much more planning remains, but Mahone said many residents are excited about redevelopment.
“We’re going to have to pay to make changes and correct deficiencies,” she said. “If we have to pay more, a lot of residents would prefer to have something new.”
Still, John Jackson and others question the need for such an expensive overhaul, and they fear the impact on affordability.
“For $500 to $600 you can stay in Parade Park,” John Jackson said of the current average charge, which he said should be very attractive to many families.
Donna Jackson argued mismanagement over time led to lower occupancy rates. She said management could instead repair and improve vacant units more economically. Once occupied, she suggested, those units could generate sufficient funds to further upgrade the complex.
Nichols said monthly carrying charges were kept artificially low for too many years, and that’s partly why the complex is now troubled.
He said the complex has people of very diverse incomes, with some making more than $60,000 a year and others making barely $12,000. His goal is to sit down with every resident and explore ways they can afford to stay.
“Our goal and one of the foundation items when the board put us on was to make sure the co-op survives,” he said. “And make sure the people that are living there today have an opportunity to stay at Parade Park. That’s our priority.”
The board was starting to move forward with a plan when the lawsuit was filed in April. Plaintiffs include Harrietta Harris and Barbara Lane, residents for 37 years; Don Williams, resident for 41 years; and Janet Marzett, 53 years.
On their attorney’s advice, they declined to comment publicly before the court hearing. But their lawsuit argues the current board is operating improperly, and the loans to accomplish the redevelopment would dramatically increase their costs. They seek appointment of an interim board, a full financial audit since 2008, and other relief.
The existing board’s supporters argue such court action isn’t warranted and say Parade Park Homes should continue under current management while the redevelopment plan is fully presented to the membership for a decision.
Hardwick is confident city, state and other agency resources are available to help Parade Park Homes residents remain.
“The goal here is to put in really high standard housing for current members and other members of the community who would like to live there,” Hardwick said. “This is to sustain the families that live there today.”
Information from: The Kansas City Star,


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