The first of many houses rebuilt for affordable housing in the Marlborough community. Photo by Photo by LeAnn Hollis

The rebuilding of Marlborough

“This is the first time most city leaders have seen this model. As a nonprofit, we can do that at one-hundredth of the cost as some corporation can.”

Multi-colored balloons and a big red ribbon decorated a modest home on Wayne Avenue at the end of January when supporters of the Marlborough Community Land Trust gathered to celebrate the market entry of “Kansas City’s first perpetually affordable house.”

A sale is already pending for the 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom, 1-car-garage residence which is being offered below market rate at $105,000 to low-income citizens in the area. Since the address is in an urban renewal area, the new owner also will receive a freeze on property taxes for the next 10 years, boosting the home’s affordability. The situation is perpetual because when the owner decides to sell the house, a deed restriction returns part of the increase in market value back to the trust, which also keeps control of the land. That way the home can be offered below market rate to another qualified low-income family.

Supporters of the Marlborough Land Trust celebrated the renovation of their first home purchase at 85th and Wayne on February 11. Left to right. Adam Hubbard, Vice President of Blue Ridge Bank, 5th District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, Rebecca McQuillen, Executive Director of MCLT and Mike Linn of Lessen Contractors. Photo by LeAnn Hollis

Members of the Marlborough Community Coalition say this kind of home ownership is a good way to create stability and fend off problems associated with gentrification in an area east of Waldo where 65% are renters and the annual median household income is $25,000. And while they’re using various city, county and government programs, they see it largely as a homegrown effort to take control of their own destiny.

“This is the first time most city leaders have seen this model,” says Rodger Kube, a Marlborough resident and coalition member. Compared to other efforts, he claims it’s a less expensive and faster way to provide affordable housing. “As a nonprofit, we can do that at one-hundredth of the cost as some corporation can.”

A second house purchased by the Marlborough Community Land Trust has begun the renewal process at 77th and Lydia. The Trust also recently purchased property to build two new houses on. Photo by Bill Rankin

The land trust was created less than two years ago by the Marlborough Community Coalition, which in turn was formed about 12 years ago when five neighborhood associations agreed to merge. In addition to the house for sale at 8449 Wayne Avenue, the trust plans to put a second renovated home on the market this spring and will start building new homes on two vacant lots. Members are looking into acquiring additional foreclosed properties and they’re ready to begin a study on the feasibility of turning the old Marlborough Elementary School into lofts and townhomes.

Kube estimates the school renovation might cost $9-$11 million, adding, “That sounds like a lot, but when it comes to developments, it’s probably not that much.” He says the trust is investigating a crowd-funding campaign for the school project, “but up to now we’ve been so busy.”

The former Marlborough Elementary School  near 75th and Troost may someday include townhomes and lofts. Photo by Kathy Feist

Community land trusts are not new—they began in the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement—but they’ve only become more widespread in the last 20 years. The Marlborough Community Land Trust is unique in the metro area, organizers say.

City Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, who attended the ribbon cutting at the Wayne Avenue house, calls it “an important milestone on our journey to tackle the issue of affordable housing.” She notes the model has proven to be an effective tool in other communities, and “We’re excited to see it put to work for the first time in Kansas City.”

According to Kube, it all started a decade ago when the KCMO Parks Department announced it would be closing the Marlborough Community Center due to budget constraints. Several neighborhood women, including his wife Diane Hershberger, decided “No, that wasn’t gonna happen,” he remembers. They lobbied City Council members and attended hearings, discovering the community center required only a small percentage of the department’s budget.

“They saved it, and that was a precipitating event,” Kube says. “They started to realize we have power, and we can advocate for change. We look around and see what can happen in other neighborhoods like ours and we’re inspired to keep working.”

Some years later Hershberger attended a community development workshop sponsored by AltCap, an alternative financial institution for the region. She learned about community land trusts and brought back the idea to the Marlborough Community Coalition. In 2020 they obtained a grant from the H&R Block Foundation to hire a part-time director who lives in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, one of the women who had helped Hershberger protest the closing of the community center, Betty Ost-Everley, died and her house fell into disrepair, eventually becoming a rundown property used by meth addicts. The land trust found it listed as a foreclosure and negotiated a sale with the assistance of Blue Ridge Bank. A Marlborough general contractor, Mike Linn of Lessen Construction, handled the renovation, which included repairing a collapsed sewer line and replacing windows, dry wall, wiring and floors. Bathrooms and kitchens were updated, and a small deck was installed outside.

At the ribbon cutting for Ost-Everley’s former home, the same Wayne Avenue property that’s now “perpetually affordable,” observers described it as a full-circle moment, especially since Ost-Everley had been a leader in forming the community coalition. “Betty would have loved it,” says Kube. “One of the visions she had for the community was affordable housing. She’d think this was just fabulous.”

A boarded up house receives colorful artwork from Marlborough’s Arts and Culture Committee. Photo by Kathy Feist

Homeownership is important because it creates generational wealth, he says. “I’m a nice, middle class white man. When I wanted to buy a house, my in-laws helped with the down payment.” He described the opportunity to own a home through the land trust as “the chance of a lifetime” for longtime renters in the neighborhood who can’t afford market-rate prices.

Another helpful program in the community’s nearly 350-acre urban renewal area offers a 10-year tax freeze for existing property owners who invest at least $5,000 to bring homes or commercial buildings up to code. This program was adopted as a city ordinance at the beginning of 2020 and is available for some 1,200 homes between 75th and 85th streets and Troost and Prospect.

The Marlborough Community Coalition’s goals extend beyond affordable housing. Priorities include attracting more stores, businesses and restaurants (the main eateries are BB’s Lawnside BarB-Q and Vee’s Sweets and Treats), improving healthy food access, increasing recreational and educational opportunities, and revitalizing Marlborough Village (a streetscape plan and commercial redevelopment along Paseo between 79th and 82nd streets). The coalition also is considering how they might partner with the tiny-home Veterans Community Project.

The sculpture, Marlborough Blomes, beautifies a park at 81st and Troost, an area
once plagued with dilapidated buildings, litter and a lot of crime. Photo by Kathy Feist

Marlborough began as a mostly white neighborhood filled with pre-World War II homes built for workers at the former Bannister Federal Complex. Back then the neighborhood was outside city limits and developers were not required to add curbs, gutters or sidewalks. Disinvestment, redlining and white flight all contributed to its decline. Crime is higher and life expectancy is lower than in many other parts of the metro.

Kube and his wife moved from Brookside to Marlborough 25 years ago in order to have a larger yard. Now they operate Stony Crest Organic Farm on 7 acres north of Bannister Road. While the community still struggles with unscrupulous absentee landlords, trash-filled yards and general urban decay, he and other coalition members are optimistic about the future.

Marlborough Village at 80th and Paseo was once a thriving community and is now making a comeback thanks to its surrounding community. Photo by Bill Rankin

The city has invested $40 million into green infrastructure for Marlborough, including rain gardens, water catchment systems and greenways. There are community clean-up days, an annual youth arts festival and urban gardens.

“We’re making Kansas City a great place to live, and we have acres of green space and parkland begging to be put to good use,” Kube says. “We want to turn this into a place where people come to have fun and meet all the cool, talented people who live here.”

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