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A Dream Home In Kansas City For One Dollar? Not Really

The city of Kansas City, Missouri recently announced $10 million in its budget to demolish hundreds of homes that are rotting in urban neighborhoods.

These homes are not only an eyesore, but attract squatters and crime.

Credit Laura Ziegler KCUR 89.3
There are more than 800 homes on the city's dangerous buildings list.

The funds are meant to help get rid of more than 800 homes on the city’s dangerous buildings list. But when residents got wind of the program, they cried out to save some of the homes. 

They want people living in their communities — not more vacant lots.

So the city decided to put 135 of the blighted homes on the market — for a dollar each.

From the McCoy Neighborhood in the Northeast

Dale Fugate is the de facto neighborhood watchman in the McCoy neighborhood just west of I-435 and south of Truman Road. A burly, gray, bearded man, he takes me on a ride around in his forest green pickup. Fugate is proud of many of his neighborhood's properties and knows most of them by name.

But the streets are also dotted with properties on the city’s dollar-home list.

We pull up in front of one of them. It's a two-story home that was obviously lovely at one time.

There's a wooden deck with white railing and trim and a red brick foundation.

Today, the house is frightening. A web of brown vines grip the brick foundation and strangle the railing and doors. Fugate says the previous owner just gave up on the house.

"The maintenance issues on the property, they're huge," he says. "There's a big wet weather spring in the bottom so it would grow up and (the owner) couldn’t mow into it. It's been abandoned for close to 10 years."

The big hole where the decaying house sits is littered with trash. Fugate points to a child’s pink bicycle. It’s resting against the inside of the neighbor’s barbed wire fence.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Neighborhood activist Dale Fugate organizes property cleanups and keeps tabs on who's coming and going from vacant homes.

"There’s four kids in that house," he says, pointing next door. "There's another three or four in that one. This is not just a dangerous building, it’s a hazard. "

The Land Bank

The house in Fugate's neighborhood is among the worst of the hundreds on the city's list of condemned properties. The majority aren't in the dollar homes program, but can still be purchased for a discount.

The Land Bankhas been holding open houses at its headquarters on Swope Parkway to explain the program.

Executive Director Ted Anderson stands in the middle of a conference room surrounded by a dozen people listening and asking questions: "Can we visit the homes?" "How detailed a proposal do we need to submit if we're interesting in purchasing one?"

Anderson says the city’s goal is to get these properties back on the tax rolls. But once residents expressed such a keen interest in rehabbing some, he says the city realized it was better for a dilapidated home to be renovated and lived in, rather than torn down.

"Those demolitions cost about $8,500 a piece," Anderson told those at the open house. "So one way we want to save neighborhoods is to make that $8,500 payment to a rehabber as opposed to a demolition contractor."

So one way we want to save neighborhoods is to make that $8,500 payment to a rehabber as opposed to a demolition contractor. Land Bank Director Ted Anderson


How to get a blighted home for a dollar

Once applicants pass a background check, they must show the Land Bank they can match the city’s $8,500 contribution toward renovating the home.

Most of the homes are kind of like the one we saw in Dale Fugate’s neighborhood – they need pretty much everything: electrical wiring, heating and cooling, floors and roofs. The city says owners should expect to spend up to $40,000 to get the homes up to code. Buyers have one year to make the house livable.

South Kansas City resident Teresa Smith is considering buying some dollar homes to rehab and sell. She says she already has some interested buyers. But officials say they’ve gotten some 3,500 inquiries for the 135 one-dollar properties. Smith is worried about the competition.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Teresa Smith didn't realize the dollar homes will cost $30,000 to $40,000 to renovate.

"It’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of cost to fixin’ it up. Basically, they say it’s not, but it's who has the most money," Smith says, referring to how she thinks the houses will be awarded.

Jonny Gilbert, an upbeat 26-year-old with some home building skills, says he can’t afford a traditional down payment. The dollar-home program just may be his ticket out of the rental market. We talk about how owning a home says something about the American dream – maybe it's the backyard and the dog. Gilbert thinks his American dream might look a little different.

"Maybe a 'green' American Dream, probably like a garden and stuff like that," he chuckles. "And I'd probably take a wife before a dog but we’ll get there!"

Officials say preference will be given to those, like Gilbert, who plan to live in the homes, rather than flip them. A list of the properties and schedule for touring the houses is on the website of Land Bank of Kansas City, Missouri.

The last day to buy the dollar homes is April 1.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org. 

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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