Two doors down from Chris Karcher’s Kansas City, Kansas home sit two empty houses.
One home has been vacant for several years. No one has lived in the other house since 2013. And as each day passes by, the houses become more and more damaged.
“About six or eight weeks ago we did have squatters in there and they actually started a fire in the house,” Karcher said.
According to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, the homes are owned by a couple who lives out-of-state. They are two examples of a growing problem in Kansas City, Kansas and all across the metro.
“There’s a ripple effect that goes out to this neighborhood, to everyone who drives by them day after day. They are still here and they still look a mess,” said Brian McKiernan, who represents District 2.
This year the Unified Government of Wyandotte County implemented a new initiative to tackle the city’s blighted structures and properties, creating SOAR (Stabilization, Occupation and Revitalization).
The goal is to improve 10,000 properties in the city by 2021.
“Often we find these abandoned properties after something has happened to them like a break-in or fire damage. We’re actually trying to identify those sooner,” said Melissa Mundt, assistant county administrator.
There are close to 3,500 abandoned, blighted or vacant properties in the city. For properties that can no longer be rehabbed, it costs an average of $12,000 to $14,000 to demolish the properties.
Those that aren’t considered ‘dangerous,’ according to Mundt, may sit empty for years.
“We need some means when we know something is vacant and an owner has essentially abandoned a structure to help get ahold of it faster so we don’t lose these historic structures in our community,” said Mundt.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County is part of the League of Kansas Municipalities, which is currently trying to pass legislation in Topeka. Senate Bill 31 would help streamline and expedite the process for local governments to deal with abandoned, nuisance and foreclosed homes before the properties can no longer be rehabbed.
Other cities that are apart of this League include: Olathe, Overland Park, Topeka, Wichita, Russell, Fall River, Baxter Springs, Salina, Arkansas City, Dodge City, City of McClough, El Dorado and Manhattan.
Ariel Rothfield can be reached at Ariel.Rothfield@KSHB.com.