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Residents of Kansas City’s historic Black housing co-op ‘hoping for a miracle’

A row of gray apartments sit behind black, wrought iron fencing.
Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
More than 200 families live at Parade Park near Kansas City’s 18th & Vine District.

The historic but crumbling Kansas City housing cooperative, designed in the 1960s for Black families, faces a July 7 deadline to propose repairs. Without a plan, the Department of Housing and Urban Development could pull back on a $10 million loan it guaranteed.

Carrie Miller worries time is running out for Parade Park.

As a resident at one of the oldest Black housing cooperatives in the United States, she’s hearing things about what may happen if a federal agency can’t be convinced in the next week that Parade Park can fix up the historic but deteriorating complex.

“Well, there'll be some repercussions,” Miller said, seated on her front porch on Monday. “The main thing that we're hearing is foreclosure. We got a lot — quite a bit — of elderly residents, including myself. And we're terrified to know that we're going to not be here. We don't know what HUD’s (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) gonna do.”

Miller has lived in Parade Park near Kansas City’s 18th & Vine District for 40 years. Built in the 1960s, Parade Park offered Black families the opportunity to buy into a cooperative and share in the ownership of the nonprofit that controls Parade Park.

Some 240 families live there today.

Instead of paying rent or a mortgage, residents pay what’s called a carrying charge.

Carrying charges, however, haven’t increased much over the years and, along with increasing vacancy as some members move out, the money available to fix and maintain its structures diminished. That caused Parade Park to fall into disrepair.

Gutters sag or have fallen off. Several buildings have large holes in the roofs. Residents talk about how they place buckets on the floors to collect water that seeps inside their units.

“My children have all moved away from this place. It's a dump,” Miller said. “You saw the burned out buildings. They've been here for months.”

Conditions got so bad that when HUD inspectors showed up in 2019 and again in 2022, they gave the dwellings they observed some of the worse scores the agency could give.

And that’s why Parade Park is at risk of foreclosure: HUD guaranteed a $10 million loan to the cooperative from a St. Louis investment firm.

The cooperative is current on paying back the loan, but HUD inspections revealed that some of the units were in poor enough condition that it put Parade Park in default.

Kansas City political leaders worry about what could happen if foreclosure comes to pass: The prospect of the displacement of Black residents, many of them elderly; losing one of a diminishing number of affordable housing developments and seeing a historic part of Kansas City’s Black community fall into the hands of the highest bidder at a sale.

“I think I need to say that a foreclosure down the road is a very real possibility,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

‘Might be a miracle’

Adding to the concern of some Parade Park residents is a lack of communication from the cooperative’s board of directors about how it plans to stave off foreclosure.

In March, Cleaver pushed HUD to give Parade Park’s board a 120-day extension to correct problems found during the agency’s inspections and present a plan for how to address Parade Park’s challenges. That extension expires on July 7, and clear answers from the board haven’t been forthcoming.

“There are things that just can't be tolerated any longer: Sewage that floods from the second floor of some of these apartments, numerous ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) issues, condo units in disrepair, fire that has been caught consistently in the complex itself,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, whose mother lives at the cooperative. “It's time to fix Parade Park, we're trying to give a pathway to fix. But we need the board, the board of directors to be partners in that. And thus far they have not been willing to vote to do so.”

Parade Park’s board president Harrietta Harris did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment for this story. An attempt to discuss the issue with board members at a recent meeting resulted in a reporter being asked to leave.

A HUD spokesperson couldn’t say what the agency planned to do at Parade Park.

“We care deeply about the property, the residents, and the community,” said HUD spokesperson Megan Wheeler in an email, before declining to comment on what the agency may do.

Some at City Hall fear the worst.

“Hopefully there might be a miracle,” said Melissa Robinson, a Kansas City Council member whose district includes Parade Park. “But now we have to kind of try to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

parade_park_1960s.jpg
Kansas City Public Library
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Built in the 1960s, Parade Park offered Black families the opportunity to buy into a cooperative and share in the ownership of the nonprofit that controls Parade Park.

Two proposed solutions

Parade Park’s board over the years has engaged in talks with various developers to revitalize the property.

But for most developers, often for-profit enterprises seeking returns for their investment, the prospect of making an investment to fix up a development in disrepair while keeping carrying charges affordable proves challenging.

In June, Parade Park residents heard from two parties interested in helping.

One was the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC), which sought to consult with Parade Park’s board to find a developer to revitalize the property while maintaining its status as a housing cooperative.

Hugh Jeffers, a member of NAHC’s board, said he’s working with Parade Park to develop what he called a “community-oriented” plan for Parade Park.

“Our proposal is not fully baked yet,” Jeffers said. “It’s in the works.”

That plan, he said, could result in a smaller Parade Park.

“A large part of our plan would be to rehabilitate at least half of the existing property to maintain that as a cooperative,” Jeffers said.

And the other half?

“It would probably be sold to a developer who would be interested in our overall concept for the neighborhood,” Jeffers said.

The other proposed solution was Community Builders of Kansas City, a local nonprofit developer with a track record in developing in the city’s lower-income neighborhoods.

Residents who spoke for this story generally understood Community Builder’s proposal as a large-scale redevelopment of Parade Park that may also mean that the development could not continue on as a cooperative. The NAHC route, as residents understood it, would likely result in a more modest rehabilitation.

Community Builders, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

The June meetings came two months after the Parade Park board voted 5-4 to present a redevelopment plan to its members.

On June 13, Lucas sent a letter to Harris informing her of the availability of about $5 million in public funds — grants, tax credits, direct aid — to help with initial steps to improve Parade Park.

Lucas’ letter noted that Parade Park’s board asked HUD for another six-month extension but was denied.

“We also learned no action or vote was taken by the eligible members of the cooperative after the Board vote on April 12, 2022 to recommend redevelopment to the cooperative members, which was inconsistent with the wish of the majority vote of the board,” Lucas wrote.

QuintonLucas_LR_SOTC_021220.jpg
Lisa Rodriguez
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KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas' mother lives at Parade Park.

He requested an update on what the board planned to do ahead to improve conditions at Parade Park.

Harris wrote back on June 23. Her letter was silent about any membership vote. She wrote that the board worked to correct problems at Parade Park, including fixing missing or broken outlets, exposed wires and that the following week there would be repairs to roofs.

“In addition to the direct repairs, we are working with the National Association of [sic] Cooperative Housing. Mr. Fred Gibbs and Mr. Hugh Jeffers are developing a plan to revitalize Parade Park Homes,” Harris wrote. “They are assessing the property and will be recommending a developer.”

Harris’ letter did not specify the scale of work that a developer would do, but said the board was aware of HUD’s July 7 deadline.

“In short, we are working toward revitalization of the property,” Harris wrote. “We would like to continue in our current status of being a cooperative.”

‘I deserve better’

The board’s apparent preference for working with NAHC troubled some Parade Park members.

“The thing that we find offensive is that, you know, when you're in leadership positions, you present all the information, whether you agree with it or not,” said Connie Mahone, a Parade Park member for 48 years. “You don't take a stance on something that you want and then try to make that be what the people want.”

Mahone said she preferred a fuller redevelopment of Parade Park.

“There are so many things that are wrong, you know. it (Parade Park) needs to be built up again,” Mahone said. “But many folks are afraid it's going to cost us more to live here. Well, if you leave here it is going to cost you a heck of a lot more out there.”

The estimated cost of a vast redevelopment of Parade Park ranges from $80 million to $100 million. City officials say the redevelopment would occur in phases, spreading out the costs over time.

But it would almost certainly come with higher monthly carrying charges for residents. Precisely how much remains unclear without a development agreement, but the prospect of residents finding themselves priced out of Parade Park concerns some in the cooperative.

Lucas said public funds could help reduce the increases.

“But I think what we're trying to lay out with substantial government support is that we're willing to help subsidize the cost of what that would look like,” Lucas said. “So rather than carrying fees going from $450 a month right now, to let's say, $1,500, – right? – this was the sort of thing we're looking at $450 to $550, $450 to $650, something that actually is a responsible way that we're increasing the costs.”

Miller said she would pay more to have better conditions around her.

“I'm a retiree, and I'm on a fixed income, too. Absolutely, I am willing,” Miller said. “If I have to go to Walmart and be a greeter, I deserve better. My neighbor deserves better to have an upgrade.”

Archie J. Williams, a Parade Park member who served on the board until March, said a more modest rehabilitation may have been possible in 2016 when plans to work with a developer then got tied up in a lawsuit and eventually collapsed.

“If you don't have the funds to do that, or to make sure you stabilize it, it's going to be a decline, year after year after year, where you're robbing Peter to pay Paul kind of a situation that runs out at a certain point,” Williams said. “And that's just about the point that we're at right now.”

He said both the loss of income from increasing vacancy at Parade Park, as well as the level of deferred maintenance since 2016 became a tipping point for him in favor of a substantial redevelopment.

Williams said a plan like Community Builders’ would make it unlikely that Parade Park could continue as a cooperative, and that he hoped the membership could negotiate an arrangement where existing residents could remain.

“I guess the only thing we can do now is make the best decisions we can now to make sure that it stays affordable for the people who have lived here as best as we can,” Williams said.

“We know prices will have to go up. That's reality. But it doesn't have to be to where it's pricing people out of the area.”
Archie J. Williams, former Parade Park board member

Miller held an election for members on Monday. Miller’s idea didn’t appear to have the blessing of the board; the residents were not allowed to use a community room for the election, so it took place in the parking lot outside the Parade Park leasing office.

Members indicated on a slip of paper which proposal for Parade Park they preferred, Community Builders or NAHC.

In the end, Community Builders got 68 votes to NAHC’s 12. Parade Park's board appears to be disputing whether it was a valid election under the cooperative's bylaws.

Whether the board heeds the membership’s view or gives them a choice remains to be seen.

“One thing you don't fool with is the business with the letters – IRS and HUD. All of them alphabets mean business,” Miller said. “So why aren't we being proactive and allowing the people to take a vote?”

This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including IPR, KCUR 89.3, Nebraska Public Media News, St. Louis Public Radio and NPR.

For more in-depth news from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, we invite you to follow us on Twitter.

Steve Vockrodt is the investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.