[Continued from yesterday's Part 1.]
By: David A. Smith
You tell me this town ain’t got no heart. Well, well, well, you can never tell.
The sunny side of the street is dark. Well, well, well, you can never tell.
– Grateful Dead, Shakedown Street
Yesterday’s post opened the story of three properties along Armour Boulevard in Kansas City, old apartments that had been foreclosed and then historically rehabbed in 2006, and were now being accused of being a ‘social blight’ not for what they were, but for what seemed to be happening around them:
Who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?
Sources used in this post
Tax Credit Advisor (April, 2014); brown font
Kansas City Star, March 31, 2014: black font
KCTV, March 18, 2014; aquamarine font
KC Confidential, December 13, 2012: red font
The Pitch, May 26, 2005; violet font
All this was based on a single Blight Study that became progressively more questionable as one actually read it. As referenced yesterday, the Blight Study invented its own definition of ‘social blight’ (a legal term referenced in a Missouri Supreme Court case), and it doesn’t say something I found by a bit of Googling – that in the Centene eminent domain decision the court ruled against the city (of Clayton) and for the property owners, reaching the conclusion that even economic underutilization wasn’t enough to find blight under Missouri’s eminent domain laws that were reformed in 2006. If I’m interpreting the decision summary correctly, Centene held that a property had to be both a physical and a social blight for a city to take it by eminent domain. Of course, the Blight Study author reaches for and grasps a different conclusion:
Yes, this is a perfectly natural and logical conclusion
Based on the definition above, a social liability could be evidenced by crime, infant mortality, delinquency, code violations, disease, or any other number of metrics that are related to public health, safety, and welfare.
That is a legal conclusion being rendered by an anonymous author (presumably Patrick Sterrett, but who do we know?) who isn’t qualified to render legal opinions.
[Query: Could he be sued for practicing law without a license? – Ed.]
In 2009 the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, with assistance from the City prosecutor’s office, established the “Armour Boulevard Restriction Zone” (“Restriction Zone”), an area that is generally bounded by Walnut on the west, 33rd Street on the north, The Paseo on the east, and 37th Street on the south. The Bainbridge, Georgian Court, and Linda Vista are each included in the zone.
The Armour Boulevard Restriction Zone
The Restriction Zone is designed to keep habitual criminals out of the area through the imposition of harsher sentences if an offender does not stay out of the area.
I have no idea how higher sentences based on which part of town is the crime scene passes any kind of equal justice Constitutional standard … but let’s leave that aside.
The Kansas City Police Department also utilized its Crime Free Multi Housing Program to prevent crime in rental properties within the Central Patrol Division of the Police Department, which includes all of the Planning Area.
Areas designated for new officer foot patrols
Even a glance at the map shows that the areas identified as high crime also have high mobility: they are on major thoroughfares (not interstates) and may well be convenient open-air markets for the Anonymous Activities.
Oh the things that fit within the Anonymous Activities
Despite the efforts of all of the parties involved, residents, property owners, and business owners continue to complain about crime in the area, particularly in the area around The Bainbridge.
Armour/ Gillham Corridor PIEA, total crime statistics
In the crime occurrence map listed above, the Armour/ Gillham Corridor PIEA is outlined in black, and the Bainbridge is the cross-hatched area in right center. The dot colors show the intensity of crime relative to the overall area.
What the dots mean
We’ll return to these charts later, as they represent the entirety of the evidence that has been mustered against The Bainbridge.
To start with, it is indisputable (and, remarkably, barely mentioned in the story so far) that The Bainbridge’s 2007 renovation has been a significant improvement to Armour Boulevard
2. The property was much worse before
The struggle on Armour dates long before Eagle Point arrived. The boulevard’s once grand apartment buildings, which during their heydays between World Wars I and II were home to many young professionals –
The development of Armour Boulevard – these large brick grande-dame apartment blocks – is representative of the twentieth century’s approach to high-density urban living. It was modeled on the nineteenth-century’s approach, as pioneered by Hausmann’s Paris (itself created out of massive imperial urban renewal that displaced poor people, but that’s another story) and Manhattan’s brownstone avenues, and reached its peaked in the streetcar era (chronicled by Sam Bass Warner in Streetcar Suburbs).
Armour Boulevard, looking east: jujdging by the cars, this is about 1935
– by the 1970s had become predominately low-income housing.
‘Predominantly low-income housing’ is the Star’s euphemism for ‘black slums’. Sadly, it was the fate of many such middle-class neighborhoods (often ethnic, Jewish or Polish or Italian) to become slums as postwar south-to-north migration of blacks into the manufacturing cities resulted, as rapid urbanization always does, in the reuse of existing property into tenements via conscious landlord under-main’tenance and overcrowding, and adverse selection as good landlords could not make the economics work and bad landlords bought them out. Inside the tenements emerged an alternate power structure, one based on extortion and violence, and a haven of crime.
Police have been familiar with the Bainbridge for a long time. In 2005, before Eagle Point took over, police investigated three murders at the building.
Prior to the purchase of the properties by Eagle Point in 2006, the properties were poorly managed, in poor physical condition, and suffered from high drug and crime problems which required HUD to initiate foreclosure. The REAC scores for the properties during 1999-2005 averaged 53 for Bainbridge, 64 for Linda Vista, and 56 for Georgian Court (a score below 60 is considered ‘substandard’).
REAC scores go from 0 to 100; below 60 is grounds for HUD enforcement action; above 90 gets you exemption from inspection for two years.
Eight years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on the Bainbridge and the other buildings, and neighborhood residents and their City Council members hoped new ownership would end their exclusive use as Section 8 housing.
In the past, I’ve posted at length about poverty deconcentration versus income mixing – now, with forty-plus years of experience, we know that income mixing is a far better solution when it is possible, but it is not always possible, as shown by the experience in Galveston and Atlanta. In Kansas City, as we will see, it’s currently impossible for The Bainbridge.
Nor is poverty deconcentration necessary, as the next point demonstrates.
3. The property is not physically blighted – it’s actually in excellent condition
The Bainbridge is a large property:
Combined, there are 303 apartments, all reserved for low-income residents under the Section 8 federal housing program.
The 2006 renovation was extensive – $57 million in total uses of funds, $188,000 per apartment, a gut rehab and historic preservation – and the results are visually impressive:
Is this your idea of blight?
Who could live in squalor like this?
Though one could question whether this was a good use of Federal money, no one can seriously claim the property is physically blighted – and in fact, even the Blight Study doesn’t say so.
It’s a wonder these residents put up with such deplorable conditions.
No instances of blighting conditions were found with respect to “Defective or Inadequate Street Layout” and “Improper Subdivision or Obsolete Platting.” The photos below and in the Field Ledger Survey in Appendix B illustrate the conditions of the property at 900 E. Armour Boulevard.
The Blight Study embarrassed itself with these paragraphs:
The following blighting conditions were found to exist at the property at the time of inspection:
• Deterioration of Site Improvements. The consultant viewed six windows on the property in which the screen window was broken or the screen fabric was ripped.
Mildred, call the police: I see ripped window screens.
That’s how cat burglars do it
A fence located in the surface parking lot near Campbell Street was leaning, suggesting a vehicle or other heavy object had run into it.
Leaning fences! Catastrophe!
The electronic gate providing access to the surface parking lot on Campbell Street also appeared to be misaligned. There were some minor instances of litter on the sidewalks along the perimeter of the property. And landscaping was needed on the south frontage along Armour Boulevard between the curb and sidewalk.
An example of ‘blight’ in the study: lack of landscaping
That sentence in particular is a total howler. Aside from the dreadful blight conditions captured on pixels by the photograph above (included in the Blight Study), this hazardous condition occurs on public property (even though an owner is normally expected to police it, a sidewalk is public space).
• Insanitary or Unsafe Conditions. Minor instances of litter were found on sidewalks at the perimeter of the property.
My God! Litter! Run!
[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]