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To Tackle Blight, Kansas City, Kansas, Will Crunch The Numbers

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Blight is a problem on both sides of the state line. Kansas City, Missouri, recently auctioned off $1 homes. Now Kansas City, Kansas, is trying a data-driven approach.

Can data help Kansas City, Kansas, reverse decades of urban decay?

Mayor Mark Holland thinks so.

It’s economics 101, the mayor says: property values plummet when there are more houses than people. That’s what happened when white families started to leave Kansas City, Kansas, in the 1960s. 

“Thirty-thousand fewer people is about 10,000 empty homes,” Holland says, “which has become about 6,000 vacant lots.”

More minorities moved in but not fast enough to make up for the population loss. Today, fewer than 150,000 people live in Kansas City, Kansas.

Now the Unified Government hopes to address decades of neglect with money from Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities initiative. The idea is to connect smaller municipalities with data tools that can help them govern better.

In Wyandotte County, that means creating heat maps of the distressed housing stock.

“It might be vacant but not tax delinquent,” Holland says. “It might be vacant and tax delinquent. It might be vacant and in foreclosure.”

Each one of those situations has a different solution. Holland thinks if the Unified Government can identify what kind of fix will work best for each property type, it’ll be able to clear its backlog faster.

“One of the reasons to attack this blight aggressively is it raises the values of all the homes around it, and ultimately raises our tax base, which can lower our tax rate,” Holland says.

Tackling blight is expensive. The advantage to partnering with Bloomberg is Kansas City, Kansas, won’t have to develop its own infrastructure to fight the problem. It can borrow from what partner cities have learned.

“I’m confident we can save a couple of years of funding and time just in the expertise they bring in,” Holland says.

Thirty-eight other cities, including Kansas City, Missouri, are also participating in the data-sharing initiative.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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