KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, faces many notable challenges and the next city council will have to weigh in on some critical issues that will shape the city’s next generation.
From affordable housing and violent crime, to the Royals' plan to leave Kauffman Stadium and the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the next four years promise to be transformative in KCMO’s history.
City Council 3rd District in-district incumbent Melissa Robinson and challenger Sheri Hall responded to KSHB 41’s questionnaire before the April 4 primary.
With the field narrowed to two candidates for the June 20 general election next week, revisit the responses. Answers have been lightly edited for AP style and grammar.
Q: The city has put a lot of emphasis on this in recent years. Does more need to be done and, if so, what policies would you advocate for on the council?
Hall: More effective affordable-housing options must become available as well as workforce housing options. I offer a solutions-based approach to housing issues and would start attacking our housing issue by addressing the lack of development and blight.
Ensuring affordable housing reduces childhood poverty and increases economic mobility. The city must asset-map what it currently has to create pathways for these solutions. I think a good place to start is a municipal-voucher program for rental assistance with stipulations and protections for the properties and renters on the program, easier access to Land Bank properties with programs to bring them up to code to promote ownership, and support of land trusts that are consumer-run.
Also, considering that there are many investors willing to build within the city, a collaborative effort between the city and these investors where we give them the vision we have and then work together towards that end would be viable. I would also bring investors and residents to the table to discuss solutions. This requires a hands-on approach and cannot be solved with lopsided representation.
Another issue here is that the cost of living has increased while the minimum wage and median income has not. I would support campaigning at the state level to change this, because the current market rate rent does not reflect or relate to the current median income.
Rent regulation is also something that I would support. Housing development projects that produce long-term sustainable solutions should be prioritized and, yes, the public should be involved in these decisions. The public should also be educated about housing, credit, finance, and the city’s role in all of this.
Robinson: Yes, more needs to be done to address the housing-affordability crisis. The city must expedite affordable housing by improving processes to address city owned properties that are zoned and available for residential.
Layering a city-supported capital stack — including the central-city sales tax, community block grants, housing trust funds and tax abatements — will help address some of the barriers associated with development in disinvested census tracts. In addition, working to clear titles on city-owned property is also a measure/policy that I have passed and am working toward implementation.
The landbank and homesteading properties can be a critical and vital opportunity to increase home ownership as well as affordable multi-family housing. Low-barrier shelters and a city-operated program modeled after the Housing and Urban Development Section 8 program, removing red tape, is also legislation that I am working to realize.
The city has a robust housing plan; investment, capacity building and implementation of this multi-year plan is critical to solve our housing crisis. There are dozens of strategies that can be helpful.
I was selected to participate in an 18-month housing fellowship right before the pandemic. My study and exploration resulted in expanding Community Land Trusts in Kansas City and preparing for the Low-Income Tax Credit expirations, which, if not addressed, will multiply our crisis, with the potential of losing hundreds of affordable units.
Q: What role, if any, do think affordable housing plays in other issues facing the city?
Hall: I am a Black American woman and mental-health advocate. Housing issues affect mental health since housing is a social determinant of health. A person’s social determinants — income, education, food insecurity, housing, access to affordable health services of decent quality, etc. — affect mental health even more than lifestyle.
Lack of adequate housing can contribute to depression and suicidal ideation while also exacerbating other mental-health deficits. Mental-health deficits due to lack of opportunity and healthy communities contribute to our violence issues.
Robinson: Affordable housing has several intersecting impacts — including “pushing out” long-term residents from the city, decreasing our workforce because of the lack of the availability of workforce housing, and impacts on the school system and student mobility due to unstable housing.
Affordable housing also intersects with exploding violence. When residents lack basic necessities — food, water and shelter — desperation sets in. Desperation, the lack of hope and poverty are root causes of our violence crisis. When residents have healthy affordable housing, they can seek out and obtain employment and they can positively contribute to the city. Without housing, it is impossible to live a healthy and whole life. It is impossible to thrive.
As the luxury and market-rate housing expands, without the equitable production of affordable/attainable units, the wealth gap widens. Neighborhoods, communities and the city at-large will not thrive without income diversity and housing that everyone can afford.
Q: How do you feel about tax incentives, the city’s historic use of abatements to spur development and how they should be used moving forward?
Hall: I would work with developers and investors to create community agreements that have teeth in them, which can be enforced and acted upon. We want the investors and the investment in our communities; we also want them to contribute to the success of the community they are looking to profit from.
We need investment and we need to make it attractive. The way that we work with developers, creating more-efficient processes which expedite permitting while still including public input are also necessary measures.
Robinson: Tax incentives are appropriate when they are utilized as intended — in distressed areas to clear blight. A popular opinion is that the city has an incentive-proliferation challenge. I disagree with this opinion. The city of Kansas City has a vision-and-execution challenge. It is imperative that we are clear with developers about our development vision, goals and metrics. It is equally critical to professionally partner with developers to solve the city’s development challenges and meet the vision set by the council, residents and stakeholders. Developers must have confidence in the city, the rules, permitting and processes.
In addition, we can no longer sacrifice K-12 education, community college, public transit, mental health, libraries (taxing jurisdictions) and other city services for inequitable development. There must be a clear and tangible benefit to taxing jurisdictions, especially our K-12 system that has not had a property tax levy increase in over a generation.
According to an article printed by KCUR on Jan. 23, 2023, in 2022, Kansas City Public Schools missed out on $45 million in tax revenue due to tax breaks for developers. High school graduation is a critical determination if you will be a victim or a perpetrator of homicide. Our homicide rate is reflective of our lack of adequate investment in education.
On this current trajectory, in the words of Bob Marley, “We plant the seed and kill them before they grow.” Our next generation deserves better, and history will rebuke us for not protecting the education and growth of our young.
Q: Should KCPD remain under control of the Board of Police Commissioners? Or should the city resume local control? Please explain your position.
Hall: In short — yes to local control. This puts budgeting power back into the city’s hands. The state should not have that kind of control over the budget. Also, considering there is no clearly outlined nomination process for the board, having elected officials in control of the police department — people who constituents have vetted and voted for and who are required to remain in the city limits during their tenure — rather than “nominated” board members puts control back into the citizen’s hands.
The City Council, with local control, would be able to have a more effective influence on the police department but this would not determine or change the city ordinances in place which were in question at that time. This means we would have to review those ordinances to ensure that they are clear and do not infringe upon people’s rights.
Robinson: The city, within itself, cannot resume local control. The three paths are state legislation, a statewide vote or a judicial ruling for local control. After deep resident education and awareness, I do believe Kansas City voters should weigh in on their desire, or lack thereof, on city control and authorize further action.
The current structure is problematic and at its core is taxation without representation. I have faith in the current police chief and her sincere desire to give residents agency over how they are policed and to partner the Kansas City Police Department with the community to realize real change.
This dependency on an unelected leader presents a vulnerability that is inexcusable. Taxpayers deserve to have direct say, through representative government/democratic republic, on all city services, including police.
Q: How would you hope to engage new Chief of Police Stacey Graves and what sort of reform or resources do you believe KCPD needs to better serve and protect the city?
Hall: Working with KCPD is crucial for effective violence prevention, working with the police department to create effective training programs and de-escalation efforts as well as peer support for officers.
Also, engaging programming that pulls together community nonprofits who offer services to people experiencing trauma, restorative justice, resource navigation, and other services where people can be referred to for follow-up care is essential to future crime prevention.
Robinson: I have already begun to build and engage with the new Chief of Police Stacey Graves and have hosted 3rd District community meetings to provide feedback and direction for KCPD. I have humbly requested that the new Chief to do the following:
- Design a community/resident feedback process with accountability measurements;
- Share strategies on how to address excessive use of force and disparate traffic stop outcomes;
- Develop a robust community-policing strategy, where dedicated officers develop relationships with residents in areas where there is a disparity in violent crime.
In addition, I held a town hall with high schoolers and they developed three strategies to improve their quality of life. Violence prevention is a priority for them and their stated theory of change is to build relationships with police officers in informal, non-threatening environments. I will continue to work with the major over Chief Graves’ Community Engagement to take action on the priorities as described by 3rd District high schoolers.
Q: How do you believe KCPD is perceived by residents? And what can be done to improve and/or strengthen the department’s relationship with the community?
Hall: By many of the residents where I am from, they perceive the KCPD as a necessary evil. While they appreciate the job of the officer, they also live in fear of officers due to historical policing inequities as it pertains to non-white citizens.
Robinson: Third District residents support improved policing and understand their role as integral to enforcing laws and apprehending community members that are doing harm to others.
Third District residents are supportive of constitutional policing. Residents have an expectation of fairness, and a comprehensive and effective approach to address racism within the department.
Cases like Cameron Lamb are terrifying to residents. Residents want to revere the work and sacrifice of Kansas City police officers. They want to see a seismic shift in accountability and the elimination of excessive use of force. Residents want to trust the police.
Q: Kansas City has seen record numbers of homicides in recent years. What can the city council do to stem the tide of violence?
Hall: The City Council can look into doing a short study and comparative-literature review regarding the root cause of these crimes and create policy, procedures, and programming based on the service-user studies in relation to evidence-based practices that have worked in other demographically similar cities.
We cannot discount the fact that perpetrators of crime, and people that simply will not help in the process of the apprehension of criminals, are still citizens. Those closest to the issues often have answers and solutions.
Robinson: The City has to have a comprehensive approach to addressing violence. I believe access to opportunity is critical and passed legislation this past January that reflects that:
- Partner with the City’s Land Bank to provide an economic base for residents and neighborhoods;
- Maximize and enhance community-benefits agreements with financial institutions to increase access to capital for small business and home ownership;
- Collaborate with local trade organizations and workforce development agencies to ensure all high schoolers not entering college have access to living-wage employment immediately following high school graduation;
- Build and execute a robust blight and trash remediation program with neighborhood oversight;
- Collaborate with public-school systems — including K-12, community colleges and the University of Missouri-Kansas City — to ensure they are adequately resourced to educate students who are experiencing opportunity gaps;
- Connect households to broadband and support families who are utility burdened;
- Collaborate with local developers to attract jobs, services and attainable housing.
Q: What other factors do you think drive the increased violent crime and how can the city council address those?
Hall: Issues relative to the lack of opportunity (joblessness, lack of access to resources, housing issues, etc.).
Robinson: High school graduation rates and lack of full employment drive increased violent crime. The City can address them by ensuring we are protecting K-12 funding and providing access to employment. Some city departments have a 20 to 30% vacancy rate. The city can work with high schools and prepare students for these jobs and build up our labor force.
The Kauffman Foundation recently launched a career-training program for adults. I am working with city officials on a massive marketing collaboration effort to ensure residents are aware and can access these benefits.
I will continue to work with the Aviation and Transit Authority to ensure we have adequate transportation to the airport. Residents in the urban core need access to the jobs available at the airport. Transportation is a barrier we can help remove.
Neighborhoods where residents are fully employed have access to healthy, stable housing; robust goods and services; and have the bandwidth to be vested in building vibrancy and vitality. The root cause of violence is poverty. As a sitting city councilmember, I have and will continue to pass policies that eliminate poverty where homicide occurs the most.
Q: While there are numerous major projects proposed or in the works (e.g. new KCI terminal, I-670 cap/park, KC Streetcar expansion, Current stadium, Buck O’Neil Bridge), how would you improve the city’s infrastructure to improve the daily lives of residents?
Hall: We have to secure the budget for these projects and ensure that the money for them is not diverted to other budgetary items or that it is not only serving certain areas of the city.
Creating some transparency around the fix schedule where citizens can see where their issue is on the list is also something that can be implemented.
We can also educate our citizens with regards to the use of the My KCMO app and 311 to gather issues reported and get them in the queue to be remedied.
Robinson: I have four plans that I am currently working on — some legislation has already passed, — to address infrastructure:
- The 3rd District has the least amount of green space and the highest rates of childhood asthma. We have to increase green space, improve parks and ensure pollution mitigation strategies;
- The 3rd District has the lowest dependency on cars. It is critical that we address our urban trails and transit-connectivity infrastructure. I worked, and will continue to work, to have rapid transit to the airport and other job centers where wages are above $30,000 annually;
- Equitable distribution of general-obligation bonds to improve sidewalks in areas that could not afford to benefit from the previous council’s policy on addressing 311 complaints first with GO Bonds. They could not afford to assess their property taxes for new sidewalks and subsequently are on the bottom of the list in receiving relief to repair sidewalks, all the while contending with new bike-lane infrastructure. We will continue to pass policy to ensure equitable distribution of infrastructure improvement;
- Housing is infrastructure! The city must invest in remediating environmental issues caused by the improper demolition of dangerous buildings, leaving basements filled with dirt, which is an impediment to infill development and causing environmental/brownfield concerns.
Q: How do you envision the city’s mass transit evolving before the World Cup in 2026? How important is it to ensure that changes/improvements benefit the city beyond 2026?
Hall: I envision that mass transit will continue to expand. We have an aim of creating a more walkable city, decreasing our carbon footprint, and making the city more accessible for all residents. We have to continue this residents-first approach.
With this approach and expansion, the World Cup will be serviced. We cannot focus so intently on this one event that we miss the boat with our residents. The fixes that go into place revolving around the World Cup must stay in scope and not affect regular city services and necessary repairs.
Robinson: The city has the capacity and support of internal and external resources to fill the transit needs for the World Cup. It will require significant planning and execution to deliver on the promises set forth in our bid. We will continue to learn from previous American World Cup experiences — including Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles and other American cities. The city has entrusted this work to the Sports Commission and Visit KC. Council and administration must remain committed to supporting them in meeting the expectations set forth in our contracts.
One paramount issue is mass transit from the Main Street streetcar to the Eastside. I am a proponent of adding mass rapid transit along Linwood, 39th Street, 18th Street and Independence Avenue. This will help residents beyond the World Cup as well as tourists. The World Cup has to be a transformational experience that sustains a community benefit over the next two decades. Rising tides must lift all boats, including residents experiencing significant economic challenges.
Q: Do you support building a new baseball stadium downtown? Where should it go and how should it be paid for, if so?
Hall: Whether I am in support of building a new baseball stadium downtown or not, it is something that is going to happen because they have private funds and the ability to buy the necessary property.
We need to work with the owners to create community agreements that fulfill our vision of the city, create relief for unintended consequences like the displacement of homeless and small businesses, work with other investors to bring more business to the area thus increasing jobs, and plan traffic engineering (open street and highway) around the area they are choosing to develop so that the downtown stadium is not as disruptive to the downtown area as it could be.
Robinson: I need more information about the financing, placement and community-benefits agreements to weigh in. Downtown baseball is exciting and electrifying. The City has a AA Credit rating. It is important that we maintain a strong and solvent financial position. I look forward to having more discussion about a regional approach, financing and the direct impact city decisions on this topic have on voters.
Q: What other issues are important to you? And what would your top handful of legislative priorities be if elected?
Hall: My top legislative priorities are:
- Creating programming and cash flow for social-determinant improvement with emphasis on affordable housing and jobs;
- Ensuring the Office of Citizens Engagement is fully functional and operates with transparency so that organizations within the city can use that resource to work with us to provide services and access;
- Directing budget and programming towards greater access to health care — mental-health emphasis — with non-clinical wellness alternatives that will aid underserved, low-income, and under-resourced populations. Access to care includes office hours, the types and modalities of care offered, affordability, and cultural competency. Many would opt for non-clinical interventions which are evidence-based and have proven to have the same or better effectiveness as their clinical counterparts. Also, due to lack of education/time/resources, many receive care from a psychiatrist (person who prescribes meds) but may not receive the necessary therapy that should accompany medication. Therapy, peer support, and other wellness mechanisms are needed to make sustainable improvements;
- Creating a task force, database, and mechanism for the reporting of and search for missing persons — namely women — in Kansas City. Kansas City has a history of women going missing. It’s time that we make a stand with connected efforts between police, local agencies, and grassroots citizens groups to protect our residents. We have gained national attention regarding the ills of the situation here, it’s time that we gain that same attention for the strides we make towards the remedy.
Robinson: See “Opportunity Agenda” on a previous question:
- I am interested in a strong economy, resulting from full employment for residents;
- I am interested in remediating trash and blight in the 3rd District, and pushing the envelope on green infrastructure to alleviate blight and improve our water system;
- I am interested in implementing our Climate Action and Resilience Plan;
- I am also interested in a professionalized city government and collaboration to realize world-class city goals.
Q: What qualifications/experience do you possess that you believe will help you be an effective and successful KCMO council member?
Hall: I have always been involved in the community with various organizations and grassroots work. I am an advocate and feel that I can have more influence and make more sustainable changes at the policy level of engagement. I am a nonprofit CEO with experience and skills in reading legislation, root-cause analysis, vendor management, and program management.
However, I believe that my best qualification is that I am a person with lived experience. I have lived in the 3rd district for a large part of my life and know the issues that we experience. I have seen the lack of development, lack of blight remediation, increase in violence, and stagnancy of opportunity here. I am a community voice and am equipped to do something about it.
Robinson: I have served in elected office for eight years. I served as a volunteer school board member and school board chair. Under my leadership, students performed higher than they ever have on standardized tests in recent history.
I am a Robert Woods Johnson Fellow and earned an MBA. I completed my fellowship addressing food insecurity in Wyandotte County.
I collected my first paycheck in social service in 1995 from the AdHoc Group Against Crime. I have had the privilege to work and be mentored by some of Kansas City’s greatest: Alvin Brooks, Gwendolyn Grant, Dr. Jasper Fullard, Dr. Karla Houston Gray, Stacey Daniels Young, Carl DiCapo, Steve Isrealite, Reaner Shannon, Harold Washington, Charlie Jackson and the late Kelly Bowland. These leaders have shaped me into the leader that I am today — a servant leader, and someone who believes in hard work, transparency, collaboration and shared success.
I have worked hard my first term to realize landmark legislation — including securing city funding for 100% affordable housing, tenant protections, racism as a public-health crisis, increased access to safe public transit, public safety, improved outcomes on contract access for disadvantaged businesses, economic development reform, freezing taxes for long-time Kansas City residents to prevent gentrification, improving city jobs and so much more.
I currently serve on the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure and Finance and Governance Committees. I also serve on the National League of Cities Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Racial Equity, and Youth and Families Council. I was recently appointed to the city’s Homesteading Authority. I also serve on the Metropolitan Energy Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City Alumni Board, and University Health Board of Directors.
I have intimate knowledge of the city’s infrastructure improvement processes and am in position to influence federal legislation to help frame our local municipalities’ abilities to access significant federal investment.
I have recently received a national award from Robert Woods Jonhson for my work to achieve health equity and was recognized by the Urban League of Greater Kansas City as the local Difference Maker of the Year 2023. I was also named Top 40 Under 40 by Ingrams Magazine and Rising Star by the Independent.
I have received numerous endorsements from labor organizations, tenants, citizens associations and residents for my commitment to accountability, responsiveness and championship of their policy priorities.
Third District residents deserve the benefit of having an experienced policy maker at City Hall, one who has demonstrated success and has an effective plan to build upon four years of hard work and resident focused leadership.