Kansas City Housing Authority officials think they know what’s best for the Northland, and Northland residents are telling those officials to take those high minded thoughts and haul them back across the river.
There are few clearer examples of the way top-down thinking has made the whole public housing experience an Orwellian horror show than the case at hand.
The story begins in 2015 when Kansas City “wins” an allegedly competitive $30 million federal “Choice Neighborhoods” grant. The money will allow the Housing Authority to relocate several hundred residents from Chouteau Courts, a development the Kansas City Star describes as the city’s “most obsolete 1960s-era public housing project, near Independence Avenue.”
Objectively, the Independence Avenue location is ideal for low income people, easily accessible to downtown and elsewhere in the city by public transportation. The fact that Housing officials consider a 1960’s era project “obsolete” is a testament to either bad planning in the past or oversized ambitions in the present.
Why anyone in Washington was designated to judge Chouteau’s obsolescence or the quality of the Kansas City proposal is a question for another day, but clearly every step of the “award” process smells of wasted taxpayer money.
Officials have more or less settled on a site at the intersection of N.W. Barry Road and N. Platte Purchase Drive. The development calls for between 75 and 90 total units, 25 to 30 of which would be for “public housing families.” Another 12 to 15 units would be set aside for “workforce housing,” a designation with a faintly Soviet bloc air to it. The rest of the units would allegedly be market rate, but it is hard to imagine why anyone would pay a legitimate market rate for a development managed by the Kansas City Housing Authority.
One reason Kansas City won the “award” was because officials built suburban sites into their “Choice Neighborhoods” proposal. No one, however, bothered to consult the citizens who live near those sites as to whether they approved. They don’t. Ignoring the predictable accusations of “racism,” more than 4,000 people have already signed a petition protesting the proposed project.
Officials are unfazed. John Monroe, the unelected director of planning and development for the Kansas City Housing Authority, told the Kansas City Star, as paraphrased, “Some replacement low-income housing should be located in the Northland.” In Monroe’s opinion, the Northland does not have its fair share of public housing.
The Northland does not have its fair share of police presence either, but that is not an issue housing officials care to address. The truth of the matter is that the Chouteau Courts project failed for the same reason all public housing eventually fails.
In the 1960’s, the federal government moved from fixed rents to rents based on “need.” Along with Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare, this seemingly generous move made the married male an albatross for a public housing family. Need-based benefits encouraged everyone to cheat, and the most effective way to cheat was to keep males off the lease, and the safest way to do that was for women not to marry them.
It is altogether possible that no married couple under 50 occupied Chouteau for a generation. A household without a married father is a tragedy. A housing project without any married fathers is a potential nightmare.
Local citizens are right to object and have every reason to disbelieve the bromides housing officials will share about “successful” developments elsewhere.