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Kansas City Leaders Say Selling Off Dangerous, Abandoned Houses For $1 Worked

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3

Kansas City, Missouri, city leaders on Thursday celebrated what they called major improvements to the urban core: $8 million spent over two years on a program to sell abandoned or dangerous houses for $1 each.

The program, designed to not just clean up neighborhoods but to cut down on crime, showcased one of its first graduates.

Laurie Schwab bought a home on East 29th Terrace in 2016 during the Kansas City, Missouri, Land Bank's $1 sale and has poured $21,000 into it so she can operate it as a transitional living stop for homeless people.

Schwab, who said she runs a homeless ministry, saw the $1 program as a chance to do something she’s dreamed about for years. The house had been a flophouse for drug users and a magnet for crime, and she said she loved watching its transformation.

“There’s just something really great about taking something that is ugly and everybody thinks ‘Eww, there’s nothing to save there,’ and turning it into something beautiful,” Schwab said.

Credit City of Kansas City
Shots of the home at 5821 East 29th Terrace before Laurie Schwab began work on it, and as it looks today. The inside of the house is still being rehabilitated.

Schwab also received an $8,500 check from Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte, which is part of the incentive for homeowners to restore the homes.

City officials praised the program, saying that in less than two years, 890 dangerous buildings, most of the original list, has been demolished, rehabilitated or readied for some action, such as asbestos removal.

“We’re building a neighborhood, we’re saving neighborhoods, we’re bringing people back into the urban core of this city,” Schulte said.

Before this program, the city had allocated $800,000 for demolitions, which cost between $8,000 to $10,000. Private firms, including Kissick Construction and Industrial Salvage & Wrecking, took down the structures without charging the city, Schulte said.

The program was originally allocated $10 million when it was launched in 2016, and $2 million is still unused.

Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR. She's on Twitter at @peggyllowe.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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