After Adrian Moore and his son were deprived of their last apartment two years ago, their housing options have become scarce. Moore says he got lucky when he stumbled upon a two-bedroom unit, in a quadruple just east of Prospect.
Moore has lived in this neighborhood for three decades and works as a cook at the downtown Loews Kansas City Hotel.
“It’s important for me to be in this neighborhood because of the bus lines and close to downtown areas in case my car breaks down,” says Moore.
After a chance meeting with the landlord, Moore and her son landed in the 98-year-old apartment building, with rent of $ 750 per month.
More calls it his ’80s throwback’ apartment, but it has a new coat of white paint, thick carpet, and new appliances.
Everywhere else in town, Moore says that same kind of place would cost at least $ 900 – and even that is getting harder and harder to find.
“There isn’t really any property in the downtown area anymore, like between the areas on 27th Street and up to 44th Street,” he says.
A recent study from the University of Missouri-Kansas City confirms Moore’s observations. Small apartment complexes – those with less than 20 units, like the one Moore lives in – are disappearing from the housing market in Kansas City.
In the recent Small Apartment Study 2021, Erin Royals and Jacob Wagner of the Center for Neighborhoods at UMKC took a close look at the Economic development of the central city Sales Tax District (SEAC), an area that stretches from 9th Street to Gregory Boulevard between Prospect and Indiana.
Royals says they have discovered that 407 small apartments in this neighborhood have been demolished in the past 20 years.
“When you tear them down, you tear down affordable housing,” Royals says.
Many small apartment buildings in Kansas City are between 50 years and a century old and in need of renovation, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The UMKC study found that the owners of these buildings are often local mom-and-pop type owners. However, when their zip codes drop in low-income neighborhoods, Royals says it becomes even more difficult to get loans for large restoration projects.
“It forces people to be self-financing,” she says. “And that’s a daunting task, no matter where you try to rehab. “
The disparities between high demolition permit levels and all other types of permits reflect this trend. The buildings are disinvested, abandoned, barricaded. They become so dilapidated that the properties catch fire or are burnt down and the City is then forced to demolish the property.
Study on small apartments UMKC 2021
Ward Katz operates DRS Management, which oversees a number of properties in the Kansas City metro. He says this business thrives on economies of scale, especially when it comes to maintenance.
Unlike large apartment complexes, Katz says small buildings typically lack an on-site maintenance person or crew, making maintenance more difficult and costly.
“It’s not easy to manage single-family homes or smaller buildings,” Katz says. “You have to have a critical mass of it to support the maintenance staff. “
Without funds to rehabilitate them, these apartments are falling more and more into disrepair. When this happens, homeowners often decide it’s cheaper to just tear it down.
No quick fix
When these affordable apartments disappear, new apartments are not built to replace them. The UMKC study found that no building permits for small apartments were issued between 2010 and 2017.
Overall, the Kansas City real estate market tends towards much larger apartment complexes and focuses on the suburbs rather than the downtown area.
Royals says the loss of this small apartment park results in increased demand and rents. But there’s something more Kansas City loses: housing diversity.
Royals discovered that when these small buildings disappear, it becomes almost impossible to maintain socially and economically inclusive neighborhoods.
“We know that here in Kansas City, but also more broadly nationally, small apartments are kind of the heart of our affordable housing stock,” Royals said.
Jennifer Tidwell, acting director of the Kansas City Department of Housing and Community Development, said the city had requested the UMKC study to better understand how to preserve “naturally affordable housing.”
“It lets us know what’s out there,” Tidwell says, “so that we can start thinking about,” How the city is helping bring dollars to preserve what we have. already ? “”
Tidwell says the low-income housing tax credit is a way for investors or potential housing providers to find financial support to repair and renovate aging buildings, especially those intended for low-income households. And she says Kansas City is now exploring other options to incentivize restoration versus wrecking ball.
Royals says it’s clear there is no quick fix to the housing demise problem.
“It’s complicated and there’s a long way to go,” Royals says. “There is a whole series of challenges that accompany the attempt at preservation. “
Rediscover the dynamism of the city
Jessica Brown owns the quadruple on Montgall Avenue, where Adrian Moore lives. She grew up in Kansas City and still lives nearby.
Brown purchased the building earlier this year as his first foray into multi-family properties. He has good bones, she said – he just needed some cosmetic repairs.
But she was skeptical of a bank’s approach for funding.
“I am small,” says Brown. “I’m a little crumb than what they lend.”
So far all the maintenance costs are out of pocket. She raised the rents, but only a little – all of her units still cost less than $ 800 a month.
Brown says she wants to buy and rehabilitate more buildings like this, but keep them affordable. For her, the goal is to help restore the dynamism of this district.
“Some of us don’t buy it to get rich,” says Brown. “We just want to provide, earn enough to cover the costs and deliver that to the whole downtown area.”
Without help, however, many more of these small buildings will end up being demolished – instead of being occupied by families in need.
This story is part of a series on housing issues in the Kansas City area produced by the KC Media Collective, an initiative designed to support and improve local journalism. Members of the KC Media Collective include KCUR 89.3, American Public Square, Kansas City PBS / Flatland, Missouri Business Alert, Startland News, and The Kansas City Beacon.