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Concerns Over Blighted Housing Continue To Dominate Kansas City Budget Hearings

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3
Residents from across Kansas City came to express their concerns and ideas for the $1.53 billion 2016-2017 budget.

Before the Kansas City Council sat down for its second public hearing for the 2016-2017 budget Saturday, 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed predicted that blighted housing would be a key topic for the day.

"There's a bit of excitement, but also a bit of caution," Reed said. "People don't necessarily want to see these buildings and homes torn down, they want to see people repopulate the urban core."

Indeed, more than a dozen residents gave their thoughts on a number of topics at the Kansas City Police Department's East Patrol building, and many raised concern with the city's planned $10 million bond issue to tear down more than 800 dangerous buildings. 

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
3rd District At Large Councilman Quinton Lucas chats with a participant.

Fifth District resident Michael Byrd was one of them. He wants the council to consider creating a jobs program to employ people on the city's east side to renovate houses that are still salvageable. 

"Employ people to renovate city houses as a training ground to teach them carpentry, plumbing, roofing, masonry and electrical work," Byrd said. "These are jobs that pay vast amounts, I mean, a journeyman can make a really livable wage."

Most of the houses facing the wrecking ball sit on the city's east side. Sixth District Councilman and former state representative Kevin McManus says he wants to see changes in state statutes to be able to take absentee home owners to court and fill vacant houses.

"It won't cost us any money, but will give us a tool to fight [foreign] LLCs that own these houses," McManus told attendees. 

Another popular topic at the hearing was the need for improved trash pickup and code enforcement throughout the city. Katie Greer lives in Kansas City's Historic Northeast, and says littering and trash is a constant problem. She'd like to see the city implement a regular street sweeping program and tow away abandoned cars that currently block cleaning efforts.

"When you visit other cities, you see signs that say, 'No parking this side of the street [every] third Thursday,'" Greer said. "Street sweeping is a visual indicator of just how clean a neighborhood is, and cleaning all that debris out of gutters would help our overloaded sewer system."

While many expressed optimism about the city's efforts to tackle these problems, some expressed dismay at the city's recently increasedhomicide rate. Mayor Sly James said he's been continuously stymied by the Missouri Legislature.

"I'm the one on TV screaming about guns every time a kid is killed," James said. "The Missouri Legislature will not allow us the authority to do anything about guns or bullets."

The city will hold a live Twitter budget chat on March 1, and there will be a final public hearing on March 5 at the Hillcrest Community Center. The budget is expected to be adopted by March 24.

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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