It doesn't come as much surprise to me that my post last week about the Section 8 Housing along Armour was met with skepticism. I think it is easy for people who are not familiar with Section 8, or not familiar with the area, to dismiss the neighborhood's concerns about these apartments as a case of racism, or a situation where the people in Hyde Park are trying to force out their lower income neighbors.
But if people care enough to actually investigate the situation, I think they will realize that bad policy is bad policy, regardless of who is complaining about it. No one wants to live in a high crime area -- not people in the Hyde Park neighborhood, nor the low-income people who live in the Section 8 apartments. This is clearly not an us against them type of setup --because high crime isn't good for anyone: the residents of the apartments, the neighborhood, or the city.
There are many apartmens along this eight block stretch of Armour, however, there is a pretty dramatic differential in crime between those that are designated as project-based Section 8, vs those that are market rate (some of which allow for Section 8 vouchers). The following is a list of the apartment units along Armour, the number of units in each building, and the number of 911 calls in the first nine months of the 2009. I'm working off of a chart for this, so I don't have exact numbers, so I've estimated the numbers:
Apartment Units 911 Calls
Bainbridge (Sec 8) 160 610
Homestead (Sec 8) 70 250
Georgian Court (Sec 8) 90 180
Kenwood (Sec 8) 60 160
Locust St Apts (Sec 8) 40 110
Newbern (Market Rate) 130 70
Armour Towers (MR) 80 40
Hamilton (MR) 70 40
Armour Flats (MR) 40 50
Sombart (MR) 40 20
Obviously the Section 8 apartments are drawing a out-of-line number of 911 calls based on these numbers -- with each unit averaging 3.1 calls per unit, where each unit in the market rate apartments averages .6 calls per unit. High concentrations of low-income individuals --for a variety of social reasons -- is a magnet for higher crime.
This isn't just 911 calls -- the same ends up being true for actual crimes -- including shootings, strong armed robberies, rapes and assaults. This distinction is why the corner where the Homestead and the Bainbridge are located has become an aggravated assault hot spot in the KCPD quarterly homicide report You can view the map highlighting the apartment area here.
No one wins when crime is this high. Let's look at the victims.
The people who live in the Section 8 Apartments
When I say no one wants to live in an area that is a highly concentrated area of poverty, no one if affected more than the people who live in the aprtments. Most of the people who live in these apartments are nice people -- they're just financially strapped. They don't have many options on where they live -- they're sort of stuck in having to live in Section 8 housing. And in this case, they're stuck living in very violent section 8 housing.
When you watch the report by KCTV5 about the most recent shooting in the Kenwood Apartments, listen to the woman who is scared for her children and scared to have her name or face on tv. When people ask why the reseidents are not stepping up, this is a large part of why. They're scared. They're under-privilaged. And they're largely ignored by the powers at city hall. So why risk their lives and retaliation by stepping forward when no one will likely listen to them. Many are, but many, justifiably, are not.
Many of these people would gladly move, but do not have the resources to relocate and very few options available to them. They are trapped, prisoners in their own homes.
This is one of the reasons HUD no longer promotes project-based section 8 housing and now favors the voucher system that promotes mixed-use living. Here's what they have to say:
Most housing professionals agree that concentrating assisted-housing for low- and very low-income Americans in dense, urban areas is not an effective use of scarce affordable housing resources. Over the past decade, professionals in the affordable housing industry have turned increasingly to mixed-income housing as an alternative to traditional assisted-housing initiatives. Mixed-income housing is an attractive option because, in addition to creating housing units for occupancy by low-income households, it also contributes to the diversity and stability of American communities.
Voucher-based section 8 allows low-income residents choose where they want to live -- which allows them to live, not just in an apartment building with only low-income people. Studies have shown that the ability for low-income people to get back on their feet faster is enhanced by living in lower crime, mixed income, housing.
The Residents of the Surrounding Neighborhood
Crime has a negative impact on quality of life. Most people like the idea of being able to walk their dogs, go for an evening jog, and living in a relatively crime-free neighborhood. While a lot of the crime remains in the apartments themselves, a lot of it also filters out into the neighorhood. The fear of crime, burglarly or worse, definitely hurts quality of life. It decreases neighborhood walkability and also decreases home values.
If the crime becomes too intolerable, many of the people in the surrounding neigbhorhood have the ability to relocate to a new neighborhood. If they decide to relocate, many will move to other communities outside of KCMO -- possibly Johnson county or eastern Jackson County. It is this type of urban flight that led KCMO to decrease in population from 507,087 people in 1970, to 435,146 in 1990 (the 2006 estimate is that we're at 447,306 people in KCMO). Obviously having people leave the city is a negative for the city proper.
Kansas City, MO
The biggest loser in all of this is Kansas City, MO. The high crime generated from these apartments continue to drain resources from the police department. Meanwhile, the crime also prevents many people from wanting to live in many areas of the city -- this lower's property values (which decreases property tax revenue) and lowers the number of people who want to live in the city (which also decreases tax revenue). Because people don't want to live in these high-crime areas, it increases the number of abandoned houses that then cause the city more problems.
The whole thing is a lose/lose/lose for the city, the apartment residents and for the surrounding neighborhood.
While many of the areas of the city that suffer from high poverty, high crime, and high numbers of abandoned homes are that way due to generations of social issues that will take time to fix, the particular problems along Armour Boulevard are that way 100% because the government has created it (with our tax dollars). And that's pretty messed up.
What should we do?
There are a lot of different options for what we do.
Many seem to want to just dismiss this as a bunch of people just trying to run off poor people in their neighborhood. They're ignoring that this isn't just Hyde Park residents, but leaders of other urban neighborhoods such as Old Hyde Park, Manheim, Squire Park, Center City and Ivanhoe have all joined together to seek better options for low-income housing in the city. They're also are ignoring that the majority of the experts on Section 8 housing acknowledge that high concentrations of low-income housing create crime problems and are not good for the neighborhoods or the residents.
Sure, we coudl decide to ignore the problem, and relive the last 40 years over again as the city.
Or, we can decide to do something about it. We can decide create a voucher-based section 8 system that allows those who need assistance can live anywhere they want with assistance, and not just in a few select buildings. Part of a comprehensive plan will include being sure enough housing is available in the city that have viable access to amenities like public transit (and creating more viable public transit in other parts of the city - including access to jobs in other parts of the metro -- but that's a whole other post). We can create options for the residents of Section 8, and decrease the concentration of crime in Hyde Park.
This solution won't eliminate crime in midtown. No one is saying it will. But it will deconsolidate it which carries a lot of advantages:
1) It makes Section 8 residents not prisoners in their own homes
2) It makes this particular neighborhood in midtown more livable, which will increase demand for people living there (which increases revenue for the city)
This doesn't remove the need for social programs to help people, nor does it eliminate the need for police presence, but it will help everyone -- with virtually no negative side effects. Most experts agree that this is a more viable solution....so why are denying it is a problem, denying the statistics and criticizing the messengers?