Dre Taylor visiting rehab center standing next to goat.
Dre Taylor, former Marlborough Community Land Trust board member, visited the rehab site at 1401 E. 77th Terrace, where landscaping work was assisted by a goat brought by volunteers. (Photo/Marlborough Community Land Trust)

A freshly remodeled house just went up for sale in south Kansas City’s Marlborough neighborhood. 

The five-bedroom, three-bathroom home with a wraparound porch sits on nearly half an acre and has a new heating and cooling system and new electrical, plumbing, appliances and fixtures, including granite kitchen countertops.

Priced at $225,000, with its property taxes capped for 10 years, it is the latest project by the Marlborough Community Land Trust, which seeks to make affordable housing available to low- and-moderate income families while building generational wealth and stabilizing a neighborhood. 

“There’s a real reluctance to think about housing as something that’s not a commodity to maximize profit and extract the most amount of wealth,” said Erin Royals, the land trust’s treasurer. “A land trust offers a way to rethink what housing can be and who should have access to participate in this type of market.”

A prospective buyer has made an offer on the house at 1401 E. 77th Terrace and the sale is expected to close by April 20, said Rebecca McQuillen, the land trust’s executive director. The land trust’s first project, a remodeled house at 8449 Wayne Ave., sold for a little over $105,000.

The efforts to provide affordable housing  are part of the Adopt-A-Neighborhood Project, a collaborative effort among Legal Aid of Western Missouri, law firms and some Kansas City urban core neighborhoods. 

Houses are acquired using Missouri’s Abandoned Housing Act. The law firms offer pro bono legal services to individuals, neighborhood associations and other groups that qualify. The law firm Stinson LLP’s Kansas City office partners with the nonprofit Marlborough Community Coalition for the neighborhood’s project.

Home ownership ‘changes the trajectory‘ 

Marlborough’s boundaries run north to south from Gregory Boulevard to 89th Street and east to west from Bruce R. Watkins Drive/U.S. Route 71 to Troost Avenue. 

The neighborhood was started around 1900, said Diane Hershberger, the coalition’s interim executive director. The coalition was founded in 2009, and it created the land trust as a separate entity. Hershberger is one of the coalition’s founding board members and has lived in Marlborough for 26 years.

The neighborhood, named after John Churchill, England’s first duke of Marlborough, is attempting to combat extensive housing blight with strong neighborhood leadership and tools like the land trust.

Besides providing affordable housing, some of the project’s less quantifiable goals include enabling children to stay in their schools for a longer time, encouraging long-term residents and improving employment productivity, McQuillen said.

“This affects not just the four corners of the lot but also the kids walking by to get to the bus stop down the street, and nearby neighbors,” she said. “It improves the economics and feelings of pride and safety.”

Royals, the land trust’s treasurer, is also the neighborhood outreach and research coordinator for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Center for Neighborhoods. She studied urban planning, housing and community development and is a doctoral candidate in geography at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. 

She said the land trust is underway on acquiring a third house, which was abandoned, and it plans to break ground soon on four new houses. 

“People sometimes ask about the logic behind a land trust to keep affordable housing available in perpetuity,” Royals said. “That’s just a difficult thing to wrap their heads around.”

“A lot of people explicitly or implicitly think you should rent if you can’t afford to buy,” Royals said. “It excludes people. Why shouldn’t they be able to own a house if they want to? We should have all different kinds of housing available.”

Other people say a land trust doesn’t go far enough and want to ban single-family zoning because they value the greater population density that multifamily housing brings, Royals said. Some say when more people live on a parcel of land, it’s cheaper for the city to provide services. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to think a land trust is necessarily going to fix everything, because it just isn’t,” Royals said. “But homeownership is the single best way to generate wealth and intergenerational wealth. A neighborhood like Marlborough is filled with folks, now but also historically, who’ve not been able to access lending and money, quite frankly. This is a way to try to intervene and change the trajectory.”

Residents of neighborhoods with long-standing blight don’t accept it and are “incredibly frustrated” by it, Royals said. 

“I think who needs to change their perception is people who look at these neighborhoods and think … ‘That’s good enough for them,’” she said.

Solving problems, one property at a time

The land trust works with about 15 partners, including Capitol Federal Savings Bank, Blue Ridge Bank, the H&R Block Foundation, the Menorah Heritage Foundation, JE Dunn Construction Co. and the city of Kansas City. The land trust has a fiduciary responsibility to its funders and donors and Marlborough residents, Royals said.

The houses are “decoupled” from the property, and the land trust leases the property to the homeowner for 99 years at a nominal monthly rate. 

The 1401 E. 77th Terrace property also has a 10-year property tax abatement, which caps the taxes at roughly $1,000. If the homeowner sells the house, the sales price is also capped to keep it affordable for the buyer.

Why shouldn’t they be able to own a house if they want to? We should have all different kinds of housing available.

Erin Royals, Marlborough Community Land Trust treasurer

The Kansas City Council passed an ordinance in January 2020 creating an urban renewal area in Marlborough, intended to help residents remain in their homes by capping property taxes on improved homes. The ordinance followed a study that the neighborhood coalition initiated in partnership with the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, the Kansas City office of Stinson and the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City. 

Rich Cook and Jere Sellers, partners at Stinson, handle the firm’s pro bono representation of the Marlborough Community Coalition. Over the 13-year partnership, the firm has donated nearly 6,000 hours of legal work valued at almost $2 million, Cook said.

“There’s a lot of concern about redeveloping neighborhoods that are on the precipice of revitalization,” Cook said. “Community members ask, ‘What’s going to happen to my neighborhood? Can I afford to stay there?’ Through the coalition’s and land trust’s partnerships, the goal is to alleviate those concerns about revitalization, one property at a time.”

Multiple challenges for Marlborough and other Kansas City neighborhoods

Jeffrey L. Primos, the coalition’s president, is a lifelong Marlborough resident. He moved to another part of Kansas City for a time, continued to own a house in Marlborough, and then returned to the neighborhood because he wanted to help improve it, he said. 

The coalition is trying to get funding from the city and other organizations for a minor home repair program to help people stay in their homes, Primos said. 

“We hear it all the time,” he said. “Neighbors who have lived there for 30 to 40 years, are elderly and can’t afford to make repairs look to us for resources. We don’t have them so we refer them out. We’d like to be able to make sure those resources are available.”

Adequate funding is the coalition’s biggest obstacle,  Primos said. Leaders are working to get Marlborough residents and the broader community involved in its decisions. 

“It’s important to not have too many outside people making decisions about your neighborhood,” he said. “Outside investors aren’t really asking you what you want for the most part. They’re buying and selling and it’s all about profit and not necessarily community needs.”

Fredy Mendoza knows about Marlborough’s needs. Mendoza and his wife co-own Omega A Construction LLC in Independence. Their company finished remodeling the house at 1401 E. 77th Terrace after another rehabber had started the project. They also fix up houses elsewhere in Kansas City and in Independence.

Mendoza praised the coalition and the land trust for “the way they run things and how they let me do my work.”

The coalition also advocates for improved infrastructure at permitting, zoning, licensing, budgeting and other public meetings, Royals said. Affordable housing advocacy is “really the reason we do this,” she said, adding that other neighborhoods and organizations have asked Marlborough for guidance on starting their own land trusts.

“I think there’s a recognition that we’ve got a pretty good thing going here,” Royals said. “But sometimes, I’ve got to be honest, it feels like it’s just a drop in the bucket, taking into consideration the massive need that’s out there for affordable housing.”

Inquiries from other neighborhoods, she said, are “messages of desperation.” 

“People reach out to us saying they have nowhere else to turn,” Royals said. “I think there needs to be a larger conversation, a metrowide conversation, about affordable housing. It shouldn’t be Marlborough or Kansas City, Missouri, as an entity that’s shouldering the lion’s share of the responsibility.”

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Jerry LaMartina is a freelance reporter for The Beacon. He's worked as a reporter, electronic-media copywriter, editor and website editor for more than 25 years.