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Kansas City offered tax breaks to Westside homeowners, and it helped people keep their homes

A red and white sign on a post outdoors reads "Property Tax Relief, all homeowners are eligible, deadline July 1. Behind the sign are a row of houses.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A sign advertising tax relief for homeowners is stapled to a post on Jarboe Street in Kansas City's Westside neighborhood.

So far, 53% of all homeowners on the Westside have signed up for the program, which cuts property taxes to a percentage of their income and, for some, freezes it at that level for 25 years.

Juana Martinez has called Kansas City’s Westside home for more than 40 years.

Her home, which she bought in 1988, sits on a quiet block of 26th Street, between I-35 and Southwest Boulevard. She raised her kids there and now lives with her husband, who is retired, and her 95-year-old mother.

Martinez works two jobs, both within walking distance of her home, at a community health clinic and Manny’s Mexican Restaurant on Southwest Boulevard. When she’s not working, Martinez spends time with her family — she makes piñatas for her grandkids and cooks pupusas when her kids visit.

“I thank God that I have a house to stay, a place to stay,” Martinez said. “I love the Westside. I have church across the street from my house. I have my job, couple blocks away from my house.”

Martinez, 67, has decorated her home for the season: the dining table is adorned with an orange bouquet, and near the front door is an ofrenda, or altar that honors Martinez’s family members who have died.

A woman sits on a chair and shows photos of her family.
Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Junana Martinez, 67, has lived in her home on the Westside since 1988. Because the Chapter 353 program is freezing her property taxes, she can afford to stay in her home.

The home is the center of Martinez’s family, where everyone gathers on the holidays.

But in recent years, skyrocketing home values and property taxes have made her worry she can’t stay on the Westside.

“With the inflation, life is so hard right now,” she said. “It's so expensive.”

Martinez’s love for the Westside is what motivated her and many of her neighbors last year to fight for tax breaks. Through the Westside Chapter 353 Redevelopment Plan, hundreds of homeowners like Martinez — many of them Latino, older, low-income and living in multigenerational households — are eligible for relief that drastically cuts their property taxes.

In its first year, 272 homeowners applied to the program, which is overseen by the Westside Housing Organization. Colleen Hernandez, a Westside resident who worked on the Chapter 353 plan, said that represents about 53% of homeowners.

“A lot of the low-income Mexican seniors that we're working with were born and raised in this neighborhood,” Hernandez said. “They raised their kids in this neighborhood. They want to live out their years in this neighborhood, but they can't, if they can't afford their taxes.”

How does the plan work?

The Chapter 353 Redevelopment Plan follows years of skyrocketing home values on the Westside. From 2018 to 2020, the average assessed value for owner-occupied homes increased by 128% — the most of any neighborhood in Jackson County.

“The Westside land values have gone up substantially, mostly due to gentrification,” said Michael Duffy, an attorney with Legal Aid of Western Missouri who helped develop the program. “This is a neighborhood that 25 years ago was redlined by nearly every bank that anybody tried to get a loan from.”

Martinez was used to paying about $400 for her property tax bill every year. With two jobs, she makes about $50,000 annually. Rising property values means Martinez’s tax bill rose to $800 two years ago. Last year, Martinez was told her taxes would increase to $1,800.

Martinez worried about having to move in the face of unaffordable tax bills — relocating her mother would be difficult.

“I don't wanna lose my home because I'm not able to pay for taxes,” she said.

A row of houses stretch along the left side of the image. A sidewalk lies in front of them, leading to a row of tall, established trees.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Many low-income homeowners in Kansas City's Westside were hit with skyrocketing property assessments in recent years. The new Chapter 353 plan will reduce their property taxes for 25 years.

Under the Chapter 353 plan, eligible homeowners receive a tax abatement based on their income, not the value of their home. Homeowners who make less than $75,000 have their taxes lowered so they only pay 2.65% of their income. Their bill is then frozen at that amount for 25 years.

Westside homeowner Barbara Bailey, 75 also signed up for the program. She’s lived in the same home on the 2700 block of Jarboe Street since the 1980s. The tax break means she can stay in her home.

“This is where I want to stay and grow old — until the day I kick, and get carried out of here, feet-first," she said.

Duffy said a homeowner’s payment under the program consists of two parts — the land tax that goes to the county and a payment for Westside Housing, the organization running the program. The money will be used to run the program, fund minor repairs and help the lowest income homeowners pay off delinquent taxes.

This is the first year Martinez will see the impacts of the Chapter 353 plan reflected in her tax bill, which is frozen at $800 for the next 25 years.

“We are blessed from them helping us this way,” she said. “When you save money, they are giving you another opportunity to live better. ”

All homeowners can sign up for the program, but not all will receive a tax break for 25 years. Higher-income earners will see less of a tax break. Duffy said those making more than $152,000 get a 10% reduction in their property taxes for 7 years.

Now, Martinez said she can focus on spending the holidays with her family.

“I don't know if I'm gonna live 25 years, but I'm gonna live 25 years in peace,” she said.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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