In the 1980’s, some of the public housing units in Kansas City were infested with rats, mice and cockroaches. Plumbing and electrical problems put the health and safety of residents at risk. Complaints to the housing authority were ignored and it seemed to be an organization more about serving political needs of a select few than a place organized to provide people clean, safe, affordable housing. Under such circumstances crime became problematic.
In 1989, Julie Levin, Managing Attorney Legal Aid of Western Missouri, filed a lawsuit against the Housing Authority for continuing to place people in these uninhabitable units and not improving the state of the homes.
The federal court then took over the Housing Authority in 1993 and has been in charge of public housing ever since. Because of improvements made by Edwin Lowndes, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Kansas City, and his staff, the federal government will end its oversight May 1, 2014.
So in the dozen years that the Housing Authority has been complying with the government's demands to improve the housing, what changes have been made?
According to Lowndes, the quality of housing is now the main mission of the Authority and implementing respect and integrity for its tenants take priority than any financial gain.
"We want to provide a home, not just four walls and a roof," Lowndes said.
Because of this care for the tenants and the quality of housing, the Housing Authority of Kansas City has become one of the best in the nation. Despite this success, funding for public housing in Kansas City could still improve.
Nine-thousand families are on the waiting list for public housing, with only 1,926 units available. In addition 14,000 families are on the voucher program waiting list.