By Colette Panchot
The Marlborough Community Land Trust (MCLT) recently attracted an enthusiastic crowd for its third ribbon-cutting ceremony, which showcased a fully renovated, light-filled, three-bedroom, one-bath home at 8336 Wayne Avenue. Many in attendance were those who helped transform the abandoned house into the attractive blue bungalow it is now.
Land trusts are not new, and they have varied aims. Some protect vulnerable plants or wildlife, some conserve recreational or historical areas, and some like MCLT address the lingering effects of ‘redlining,’ a practice from the 1930s to the late 1960s in the U.S. that literally created and then economically favored majority white neighborhoods. While the practice is no longer legal, minority residents in redlined areas were systematically deprived of profitable opportunities, and their neighborhoods’ infrastructure suffered from a lack of public and private investment that has negatively affected generations of families.
“Marlborough is a viable community, and our goal is to provide quality, affordable housing for families, those who are elderly, newly retired, or just starting out,” says MCLT board president Kim Curry, whose company, Curry Development Group, has also built new single-family homes on Prospect Ave. “We work with nonprofit and for-profit partners to offset the cost and transfer the savings to the home buyer.”
Revitalizing neighborhoods is complex and time-consuming work, with community partners, staff, and volunteers working behind the scenes long before new owners move in. Lawyers secure rights to properties or lots from The Land Bank of Kansas City Missouri or from homeowners who want to sell. Then MCLT facilitates the rehab or new construction of homes and sells them at below market value. The houses are legally decoupled from the property, with MCLT leasing the land the home sits on to the homeowner for a small monthly stipend, a lease that can be inherited.
The land trust is the outgrowth of a decade of work on affordable housing by the Marlborough Community Coalition. Buyers who earn below the area’s median income and who may not be competitive in the traditional housing market benefit from the shared vision of these two organizations. Homeowners can build generational wealth by amassing equity in a home, rather than renting. In addition, property taxes are capped for the first 10 years, so the tax savings may be invested into home maintenance, creating homes with curb appeal and a higher resale value. MCLT is dedicated to making the 120-year-old Marlborough neighborhood–bounded north to south by Gregory to 89th Street and east to west by Bruce R. Watkins Drive/U.S. Route 71 to Troost Avenue–more stable, cleaner, and safer.
“The city owns 3,000 properties that we spend millions to maintain,” says Kansas City, Missouri’s Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, who represents Marlborough. “We need to put families in those properties.” Parks-Shaw, whose priorities include affordable housing, livability, violence reduction, and economic development, passed an ordinance in 2022 that encourages the establishment of land trusts like Marlborough’s across the city.
MCLT has received city grants for the purpose of creating affordable housing, says Meghan Freeman, its Director of Community Development and Operations, and the organization plans to apply for funds from the five-year, $50 million Kansas City Housing Trust Fund established in November 2022. The bond is the largest commitment to housing in the city’s history and is projected to grant $15 million in its first year.
Rehabbing or building high-quality, affordable homes is only part of what MCLT does. The land trust connects potential home buyers with programs that get them qualified as buyers, as well as encouraging homeowners to become neighborhood volunteers and leaders. They also assist Marlborough homeowners who may be behind on property taxes or have incurred code violations. By referring them to community partners, these homeowners may be able to locate the necessary resources to keep their homes.
MCLT’s community portfolio includes several ongoing projects that benefit the Marlborough neighborhood. The land trust will break ground on four brand-new homes. This spring it plans to have a grand opening for the Marlborough School Project, a revisioning of Marlborough Elementary, which is a joint venture with Equity Squared. There are already events being held at the center.
“The community center will be a neighborhood hub offering services and spaces that residents want but don’t exist now,” says Freeman. She adds that these could include a coffee shop, an event space, a catering kitchen, art studios, and more.
Amanda Williams is a first-time home buyer and the new owner of 8336 Wayne Avenue who moved to the area from Independence, KS. “I fell in love with the neighborhood. It’s so beautiful,” she says. “I am benefiting from this opportunity, and someone gets to benefit in the same way when I sell. I plan to get involved with Marlborough.”
For more information, go to Kcclt.org.