2022 is nearly done.
Another year in the books.
And after two absolutely crazy years with the pandemic, up and down economy, wars, inflation, and politics (lots of politics), it does not appear to be slowing down.
But…I’m actually more hopeful than I have been in a long time. Despite the constant hum of nonsense that comes out of both Kansas and Missouri’s capital cities, there is a lot set in motion mainly by the federal government and Biden administration to counteract portions of the culture war going on in Topeka and Jeff City.
Kansas City, Missouri also seems to be settling into a better, more balanced pattern of addressing more complicated and nuanced issues such as housing. As always, a lot more can always be done but I’ve been encouraged by a council that is at least trying new things.
Anyway, I wanted to highlight three things that I’m watching for in 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
1 — Getting Money
With the passage of the infrastructure bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and straggling American Rescue Plan funds coming in, there has never been an opportunity like this in the last half century. Kansas City and its partners have an amazing chance to get an infusion of “free” money into critical projects that maintain what we currently have like roads, water, etc. and also funds that could jumpstart new industries and investment like in emerging carbon capture companies.
But to get that “free” money, it takes a lot of coordination, leg work, and writing. Most of this will go on at a staff level in the city and across the region. It will require work and coordination with our congressional delegation, Mid-America Regional Council, private entities, and most importantly the state governments to best leverage our resources, projects, and ideas.
I have questions about what we are targeting as a city and how we are going about it. Capacity will be an issue across every city, county, and state as people race to put in quality applications for funds.
We need to try to get as much funding through these bills as possible and for the most critical projects.
2 — Quality of Life Issues
From street repaving to bike lanes (yes bike lanes) to improved trash pick up especially in areas with higher crime to snow plowing, Kansas City has come a long way in a few years. Credit to Mayor Lucas who did campaign on basic services and has delivered improvement.
That said, there is much more to do big and small.
Rolling out new recycle bins city wide will a big undertaking that will make our neighborhoods better. Flying egg cartons and empty gallons of milk on windy days will hopefully be a thing of the past.
Improved ways to repair sidewalks and distribute infrastructure funding will be a boon to every neighborhood but especially those in the older parts of the city. The city has worked on new materials to smooth over tripping hazards and fix sidewalks in a more cost-effective manner. The pairing of these new methods along with completely repaired and new sidewalks will support health, pedestrian safety, and help my kid ride her bike more safely.
Voter recently passed a bond to improve parks, aquatic facilities, and other quality of life locations. Doing these improvements well and re-evaluating our resources as a whole is going to be super important. I often find myself going across state line to our wealthier neighbors for parks and pools because to be honest they’re overall nicer. KC Parks has a storied reputation but they appear to be stretched too thin. These funds should provide a boost but also a time to reflect on all the parks and assets they have and make decisions on how to maintain or to even keep them.
I hope the city continues to add to its basic services and improves upon existing programs but I’m also watching how we can improve on more niche quality of life programs. Notably, I’d like Kansas City to focus on housing improvement programs like Minor Home Repair, Lead Safe KC, and energy efficiency programs.
I’d like to highlight Project Lead Safe KC. It is a program housed in the Health Department and does lead testing, abatement, and other programs for older homes and folks with lower incomes.
Lead poisoning and exposure is just flat out bad but it is becoming more and more clear about the connection between lead and violent crime in our communities.
This is why I harp constantly on the bloated police budget. There are issues being created just by living in certain homes that no “community policing” or “transparency” can solve. The Health Department through this program can solve crime simply by making homes healthier.
Our elected officials and city staff should come together to strengthen Lead Safe KC and other housing improvement programs and increase their impact.
3 — Affordable Housing Projects Starts
Appropriating over $10 million from the American Rescue Plan funding to the housing trust fund was a great step forward for KC. (See these federal funds are absolutely key.)
The Housing Trust Fund board also unanimously recommended several projects for this funding and it was approved by council.
Now we get to see those projects start…hopefully. The media and city should highlight each one as it starts to build confidence in the program. We should also learn from the hang-ups that are inevitably going to happen with some and should bake in some solutions. I can see cost escalation being a huge deal. The Trust Fund board should look at requiring appropriate cost contingencies and or set aside some additional funds to ensure these projects start and finish.
These are very exciting times, especially with another $50 million coming to the fund.
Kansas City has a chance to really do impactful work and lead the region in the creation and preservation of affordable housing. These first projects starting will be key to that impact.
As always, if you’d like to subscribe to more analyses, hot takes, and amateur citizen reporting about Kansas City, Missouri politics and other musings please consider sharing this post and subscribing.