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'Pitting neighbors against neighbors': The impacts of gentrification in Kansas City's Westside

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-30 11:20:48-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Gentrification is an issue that has gripped Kansas City for years, greatly impacting areas like the Westside neighborhood.

“I've been living in this neighborhood for 75 years, since 1934. Two blocks from here at the bottom of the hill, that's where I lived originally,” Paul Rojas, the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Guadalupe Centers, said.

He knows the Westside well. His family landed there decades ago because discrimination made it difficult to settle anywhere.

The neighborhood he's known his entire life is quickly changing, and Rojas thinks he knows why.

“Gentrification primarily. You can Google the word. It’s really a systematic, well-planned movement, not just here, but throughout the country,” Rojas said.

The issue has been at the forefront in the last year, highlighted by the thousands of people who have reported higher property taxes, including Rojas.

He told a 41 Action News special projects team his taxes have increased by 450 percent, and others have suffered far worse.

However, Rojas said taxes aren’t the only noticeable difference.

“Let’s not stick a big mansion right next to a 3,000-square-foot home, and say the tide is equal, because it’s not,” Pedro Zamora said.

Zamora, executive director of the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation, met up with the 41 Action News team on a street that illustrated his point.

“Gentrification is definitely a challenge in Kansas City today, especially in surrounding communities. In closed doors, some folks are calling it ethnic cleansing," Zamora said.

Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch balked at that term.

“To call it an ethnic cleansing, I'm not sure that I would go there,” Bunch said.

Bunch represents the Westside on city council, and he is not blind to the changes happening in the area.

“It is a danger that we could lose the things that make the Westside so unique and exciting and desirable,” Bunch said.

Those qualities are what drew resident Nick Vella to the Westside.

“The neighborhood is pretty culturally diverse so there’s cool people.” Vella said.

He said he feels the problem isn't unique to Kansas City.

“I moved here from New Orleans, which has the same issue everywhere with gentrification, so I understand it and I’m used to it,” he said.

People with history here, such as Rojas, don’t want to get used to it. Bunch said he doesn’t either.

“How we mitigate the challenges of gentrification is tricky, but I think we do that through more housing, especially affordable housing,” Bunch said.

One suggestion form Zamora is to get a land trust in place to preserve the neighborhood.

As part of National News Literacy Week, 41 Action News partnered with five high school students from Crossroads Preparatory Academy to tell this story. Learn more about the News Literacy project here.