CCO seeks reforms in city housing rehab programs
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Mayor Kay Barnes and City Manager Wayne Cauthen both promised reforms in the city's troubled housing rehabilitation program June 15 after a coalition of 22 faith communities outlined not only the problems, but its five-point solution.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
KC Mayor Kay Barnes and City Manager Wayne Cauthen watch a display outlining the case that the Kansas City Church Community Organization made to reform the city's housing rehabilitation program June 15 at St. Therese Little Flower Parish.
"I agree with your assessment," said Barnes, after a 90-minute session at St. Therese Little Flower Parish before some 400 people belonging to the Kansas City Church Community Organization, a faith-based coalition that seeks to empower citizens to solve common problems.
"Dramatic changes are needed," the mayor said. "I support your agenda. I will work closely with the city manager to see that it moves forward."
Cauthen said he also shared the CCO's concerns, and has since he arrived in Kansas City from Denver in April 2003.
"As I drive through the neighborhoods of Kansas City, I see neglect that has been going on for years," he said. "We are going to come up with a comprehensive program to deal with it. You can't have a great community unless you have great housing."
One change he said he has already implemented is to require funds flowing through the city's Department of Housing and Community Development to be part of the regular city budget process to insure accountability of the funds received and spent.
Cauthen also promised to convene a task force that will include CCO members, as long as they are qualified and represent a diverse cross-section of the city.
"Look at us," said CCO member B. J. Atkinson to Cauthen as she pointed to the crowd of white, African-American and Hispanic CCO members representing Protestant and Catholic congregations.
"We can give you that diversity. We can give you that expertise," Atkinson said.
In addition to better accountability and stewardship of the funds that should be committed to rehabilitating houses throughout Kansas City, the CCO asked for:
An additional $5 million committed to the program, working with a coalition of for-profit and not-for-profit developers and contractors to get the most out of the dollars spent.
A commitment to repair infrastructures such as streets in the neighborhoods around rehabilitated houses.
A plan to seek private investment funds in addition to city funds for home repair and community development.
Added teeth to city building codes to hold absentee landlords accountable for the condition of their properties.
More legal protection from predatory mortgage lenders who prey upon the poor and elderly.
"It's doable if the city works side by side with the neighborhood," said the Rev. Artist Taylor, pastor of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church. "We can make this vision a reality."
Tony Caudillo, pastoral administrator of St. Aloysius/San Luis Gonzaga Parish, said that the city's programs also have to be accessible to the city's growing Spanish-speaking population.
"Many of them are newly arrived immigrants," Caudillo said. "(Language) can be a burden to them in acquiring city assistance. If we can remove these obstacles, we can spread the renewal of the entire Northeast area."
Pat Keeling, president of the Blue Hills Neighborhood Association, said that many of the people needing the most help are elderly living on fixed incomes who have been in their homes for years.
She told of one elderly lady in Blue Hills whose house hasn't been painted for more than 10 years, and whose roof has begun leaking onto her electric kitchen range. The lady cannot afford to fix either problem.
"Some of these repairs just needed a little assistance," Keeling said. "Those problems that wait become more expensive, and sometimes the end result is another abandoned house."
Shirley Dobbins, a parishioner of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in southeast Kansas City, told of a bureaucratic nightmare her parish encountered when it tried to spearhead a housing rehabilitation program in the Ruskin-Hickman Mills area.
Dobbins said the goal of the program was to sell the rehabilitated properties to first-time home buyers at special mortgage rates. Instead, she said that the city's Housing and Community Development Department hired the same contractor as the agent to sell the house, giving him a double profit.
"That doesn't pass the smell test," Dobbins said.
In addition, the agent had advertised two of the rehabilitated houses as "great investment opportunities" for landlords to purchase as rental properties - the very situation the program was designed to prevent.
"This is a clear contradiction of our intention (of starting the program)," Dobbins said. "Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?"
In his closing prayer, the Rev. Wallace S. Hartsfield, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, told the crowd to remain active, reminding them that Jesus not only cured a lame man, but commanded him to get up and walk.
"Don't sit down and get comfortable," Rev. Hartsfield said. "I refuse to sit still, and as old as I am, I can still get upset. I will not sit still and allow folks to make the present permanent. I'm looking forward to the future."