Land Bank Legislation Was A Solution For Kansas City’s Abandoned Housing Problem!

06/08/2018

In 2008 the economic crisis hit Kansas City with a vengeance! Added to this was an already overburdened Jackson County Housing Trust that had thousands of abandoned homes in legal limbo with tall grass, weeds, and blighted neighborhoods through out the city. The problem wasn't just the economy and abandoned property it also included two entities the City of Kansas City and the County of Jackson County not having the ability to workout a common solution and unwilling to politically communicate. Hence the need for a State solution. Serving my last term in office as the 50th district legislator, I had been holding on to certain confrontational bills yet to be offered or sponsored for fear of backlash, or controversy and Land Bank Legislation was more like land mine legislation.

But it was an off year. A new city council had just been elected and a new mayor (Sly James) plus there was an ambitious Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders who had just become Missouris Democratic Party Leader. I thought maybe no one was looking, so quietly I pre filed the Land Bank bill in late December of 2011. As session began, low and behold the bill got assigned to a Committee for a hearing. Even better the legislation was considered a Consent Bill, (a non threatening bill). So off to the legislative races we go! HB 1116 Land Bank Agency was an idea for the creation of a land bank authority that would clear titles from absentee ownership and allow abandoned homes to be put back into the tax roles instead of being trapped in Jackson County's Land Trust. Thus making homes available for ordinary citizens, neighborhood groups, and small time developers at 1/3 the purchase price. These homes would be rehabbed and offered at discount thereby reducing the number of abandoned, blighted houses. Afterwards these revitalized homes could be sold at 1/3 the cost to new young families to move into restoring neighborhood block by block. Land Bank would help creating self determination for neighborhoods who suffered with ugly abandoned houses on their blocks. Oh yea, and Churches too, could buy the empty homes, fix them up, and resell them to Church Families, sounds good right?

Unfortunately as soon as the bill was assigned to a Committee for a hearing, the City representatives descended on to the Capital, then came the Jackson County lobbyists, all clamoring to take control of the legislation. Each one wanting credit and ownership of the legislation. All of them claiming to be the author of the bill. Soon the Mayors representatives came down to Jefferson City insisting that I give up my attempts at sponsoring the bill and step aside as they had hand picked a Republican to carry the bill without me. They explained to me, in the harshest terms possible that I would have no chance to pass legislation because I was a Democrat and there was no way that I could get a bill through to the Governors desk! Right? All this occurred even after the bill literally passed unanimously out of the Committee that just heard it.

So now I'm in the Speakers office explaining why I had just passed a bill out of Committee and why didn't I work with the City's hand picked Representative? So fine, no problem, the bill now has a co sponsor and an additional HB Number 1659. So we share the bill, it passes the House, flies through the Senate and lands on the Governors desk, (Jay Nixion, who had just vetoed my Pedestrian Safety Bill in his first year) . So the Land Bank Bill is hot! It's a new creation, a partnership between the County's Land Trust and the City's new Agency. A real victory. To celebrate this victory all the powers came together to hold a grand bill signing extravaganza at the Bluford Branch Library on 31st Street and Prospect Avenue. Seen in the Kansas City media as a tool to help blighted neighborhoods regain control of their plunging property values. For me the only problem was I wasn't invited to the bill signing. Instead two others Representatives (Republicans who didn't even live in Kansas City) were on tap for the televised Bill Signing event. Even worse our newly elected Mayor was only to happy to appear on television with the Governor. Literally all this occurring in the heart of Kansas City's Urban Core!

Well friends, I showed up all right. And even though I confronted the Governor, his staff and the Mayor they all claimed it was just an oversight and promised me a signed copy of my bill would be on my desk as soon as they got back to Jefferson City. The Mayor proceeded as if I hadn't said a word.

The funny thing about the event was it was obvious to all the Democrats in attendance that the event was a fake sham and one by one each Democrat began to walk out in protest!

A simple idea to use common sense legislation to solve an Urban Core housing problem caused by the great economic collapse had in fact united both Democrats and Republicans, but had turned into a free for all of political gamesmanship.

Well Land Bank did cost me! No appointments for me after my four terms in office. No calls to be associated with the City's Land Bank Authority after that. No thank you for CERNER Development at Bannister Mall. No good jobs for your living away from your family for eight years. And no appreciation for the other six pieces of legislation I was able to sponsor and get passed.

But on my desk was a crumpled copy of my bill signed by the Governor left there when I had returned to Jefferson City. (Pictured above)

And that's my story! No morale to the story. But I'm very proud to have created the opportunity to solve a problem that impacted the blighted neighborhoods that I served. It's been six years since this all went down and I'm just now telling the story of how I sponsored and passed KC Land Bank Agency Legislation.

My name is Michael R. Brown and for eight years I represented South Kansas City's 50th District in the Missouri House.

P.S. I believe that if we are to be successful in November 2018 Democrats must be allowed a certain amount of independence in order to serve their Community and their constituents without Party controls, in fighting, gamesmanship, or authoritarian leaders! Good luck everybody, it's tough out there!