Community group hopes to turn renters into owners


This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star.

Nancy Bauder’s childhood home is still standing, but the houses of many of her former neighbors have been demolished.
A new non-profit development organization says that’s symptomatic of northeast Leavenworth: strong historic and family ties, but diminishing opportunities for home ownership. The Community Development Corp. of Leavenworth hopes to change that.
It’s seeking to purchase, renovate and build homes in the area north of downtown, south of Fort Leavenworth and east of North Broadway Street.
It hopes to begin work on its first home by March 1 of next year and to tackle five homes by the end of 2008.
“We want to create home owners out of home renters,” said Bauder, who is the volunteer executive director of the organization.
The development group plans to keep the architecture of new and refurbished homes in line with the historic character of the neighborhood.
The target area contains several distinctive sites, including the Richard Allen Cultural Center and the historic Bethel AME Church, which was part of the Underground Railroad. It’s also the location of the first cathedral built west of the Mississippi River.
Although the historic icons have weathered the test of time, many homes have not. Some have been demolished while deterioration plagues others.
In addition, more than 70 percent of the homes in the district are rental properties, according to Bauder. That compares to about 50 percent for the city as a whole. The organization also says the neighborhood’s crime rate is higher than the city average.
 “We’ve seen a real increase in rental property in the last 10 years,” Bauder said.
While many renters have attentive landlords, other properties suffer from neglect, she said.
There are about 1,200 residents in the target area, which includes four schools, 11 churches and five parks. There are more than 100 vacant lots along with some deteriorated homes that need to be torn down, Bauder said.
“Improving that area will improve the entire city,” she said.
Although housing projects have been undertaken in Leavenworth, none have been this encompassing, said Michael Crow, the organization’s chairman and the husband of Rep. Marti Crow.
“It’s more than just putting a roof over somebody’s head,” he said. “This is a neighborhood project.”
The targeted area has many families who have lived there for several generations. Most have low-to-moderate incomes.
Bauder recalls her upbringing in the city and how her father bought his first home in the neighborhood. She said today’s economic times are more challenging for the city’s first-time home buyers.
“We see issues of people with young families needing a leg up and things are more difficult now,” she said. “If we can help them get a leg up … it’s going to have such a big impact. I want to see future generations grow up here.”
Bauder said many renters don’t realize they can actually afford to own a home because their monthly mortgage payments would be equal to or less than their rent.
Although anyone will be able to purchase the refurbished and new homes, the development group said the houses will appeal mostly to low- and middle-income buyers.
The organization plans to work with social service agencies to help identify buyers who would benefit the most. Purchasers will have to qualify for conventional loans.
The group’s main challenge is developing a funding base. It has received a matching grant of $30,000 from the Kansas Housing Resources Corp. and has until Dec. 31 to raise matching funds.
It’s also seeking private and public money for ongoing support.
“We are actively fund raising and will be,” Bauder said.