The year 2015 was a tumultuous one for some 350 residents of an affordable housing complex in Kansas City, Kansas. They had been complaining for years about conditions in the apartments, like broken or missing appliances, electrical fires, black mold.
The owner’s rental license was revoked, but residents were unsure when and if they’d get housing vouchers to move elsewhere. And they couldn’t get any help from their landlords.
“They won’t fix anything, they won’t make sure the kids are safe, they won’t make sure things are taken care of,” resident Javon Swopes told KCUR 89.3 at the time. “I just don’t understand how you can you have all this money and all this power and not want to help people.”
The day after KCUR's story about conditions at Rosedale Ridge aired, residents found out the buildings were closing, and they’d get housing vouchers from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to move elsewhere. Seven months later, residents have scattered around the metropolitan area, and the building, atop a steep hill in Rosedale, remains empty.
Reuniting with old neighbors
Jacob’s Well church in Westport has become a gathering spot for some dozen families from Rosedale Ridge. Church members used to run a children’s program at the housing complex; they now keep in touch with the children as mentors. At a recent Christmas party at the church, children made crafts and sang songs while their parents wrapped up presents for Christmas day.
Javon Swopes says she and her three children will celebrate the holiday this year in a new rental home in the Center School District in South Kansas City. It’s a three-bedroom, with a big basement, backyard and front yard. Better yet, Swopes’ mother-in-law, who also lived at Rosedale Ridge, was able to find a house with an adjoining backyard.
It was a huge relief for both families. After years of waiting, when they finally found out the complex was closing, they had only about a month to find a new place. Swopes says her kids were in shock when they saw it.
“They just kind of stood there at first, kind of looking around and looking up, and once they figured this is home they just took off,” Swopes says. “It was like, ‘We’re home, we’re home!’"
With her housing issues resolved and better transportation options, Swopes says she was in a better position to find work. Still, she misses the community at Rosedale Ridge, and the elementary school her kids attended. So does Jasmine Williams, who was more conflicted about leaving.
“I really didn’t want to go,” Williams says. “I thought that they were going to clean the mold out, and rebuild [the apartments] and fix them, so we could stay.”
Williams was born and raised in Rosedale. She says it’s the type of neighborhood where everyone has your back, where you can leave your door open when you step out. She even felt that way about the housing project, which she admitted was in poor repair, and had problems with crime and violence.
So she was disappointed when no landlords in Rosedale would take her housing voucher from HUD. Williams was able to find a marginally better apartment near downtown Kansas City, Kansas. But she still likes to go up the hill sometimes, and visit the boarded apartments.
A deserted hilltop
The apartments are across the railroad tracks from most of Rosedale: a set of three-story buildings with wood shingle siding, the windows boarded up. With the wind blowing, it’s a bit of a ghost town.
According to the Unified Government of KCK and Wyandotte County, no one has applied for a rental license since it was revoked in April. The buildings are owned by a company called Creative Choice, which is located in Florida. Calls inquiring about the property were not returned.
Among those interested in what will happen next to the property is Heidi Holliday, executive director of the Rosedale Development Association. She helped organize the tenants to confront their landlords and communicate with the city and federal agencies that could help them. Some developers have approached Holliday about the property.
But whether the owners re-open it, or another company takes over, she has a whole list of things she hopes to see happen there.
“Besides the actual structural issues like the plumbing and the electrical and the mold, we want to make sure there’s a playground up there, that if somebody takes it over and turns it back into affordable housing that there’s at least one full-time social service coordinator,” Holliday says. “That there’s somebody doing youth programming there. That there’s a community room that’s actually accessible to the residents."
It’s been an intense year for Holliday, too. None of the residents were able to stay in Rosedale because no landlords would take vouchers from the Department of Housing. She’s following up with as many of them as she can, to see if there if their housing situations improved.
“We care about those families and we just want to know where they ended up,” Holliday says.
As for Javon Swopes, as chaotic her years at Rosedale Ridge were, she also met her new husband there.
“I can say, God did miracles,” Swopes says. “I could just say he replenished everything … a new life, new marriage, new home, new everything.”
Still, Swopes appreciates reuniting with the old friends and neighbors who fought with her for a better place to live.
Sylvia Maria Gross is a reporter and editor at KCUR, and senior producer of the show Central Standard. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and @pubradiosly.