Taylor Holman was walking along East Armour Boulevard and Cherry on Sunday, September 13, when he was shot in the chest with a .22-caliber bullet. The 20-year-old later died at the hospital.
For the residents of Hyde Park, the crime was hardly unusual. In the first quarter of 2009, Kansas City police listed the corner of Armour and Troost, a few blocks east of Holman's murder scene, as an Aggravated Assault Hot Spot.
Longtime midtowners might be used to violence along Armour. But in the last few years, a Chicago development company called MAC Property Management, which specializes in turning blighted hotels and residential buildings into hip, urban apartments, has courted young and upwardly mobile renters who might not have considered an apartment on Armour Boulevard east of Main.
At the same time, a Portland, Maine-based property-development and -management company called Eagle Point also bought several buildings along Armour. Before Eagle Point bought Georgian Court, Bainbridge and Linda Vista Apartments in 2006, fewer than half of the apartments had tenants, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had initiated foreclosure proceedings against the owners. Eagle Point gutted and refurbished the buildings to qualify for tax credits available to historic buildings — several of the area's once-glorious buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places — and also financed the rehabs with tax-exempt bonds and low-income-housing tax credits from the state of Missouri. Eagle Point then filled the buildings with low-income renters who qualified for Section 8 federal housing assistance.
Stacking low-income renters in high-rises has been an issue for cities since the late 1970s when Section 8 began, paying roughly 70 percent of rent and utilities for those who met the low-income requirements. In places such as Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green projects, where police reportedly refused to enter for fear of attacks by gang members, it quickly became apparent that filling buildings exclusively with poverty-line tenants reinforced and nurtured the very problems they were trying to escape. In the mid-'90s, landlords and housing agencies around the country decided that putting Section 8 renters in mixed-income buildings was a better policy. But for reasons that no Kansas City officials seem able to adequately explain, 45 percent of the tenants along the 12-block stretch of Armour between Main and Troost are Section 8 renters, with approximately one-fifth of the city's 92 Section 8 buildings in its 64109 area code.
Residents of nearby Hyde Park have been complaining about low-income renters on Armour Boulevard for years, holding neighborhood meetings demanding that landlords seeking only Section 8 tenants turn their buildings into mixed-income properties. They say Section 8 is a social experiment gone wrong or a tool misused by absentee landlords who pack poor people into the buildings just to cash in on regular rent checks. Last year, the protests grew louder, with City Council members Beth Gottstein and Jan Marcason promising change in front of TV news crews and angry homeowners who lived blocks away from the trouble spots. Marcason successfully pushed for a city ordinance to label one building a chronic nuisance. HUD officials are fighting back, investigating whether certain Section 8 buildings were unfairly targeted; if so, HUD has threatened to sue the city.
Taken together, the voices on all sides tell a classic American story of tensions between old-timers and newcomers, black and white, rich and poor.
One woman, who used to live in the neighborhood, saw the Holman shooting.
Holman Shooting Witness: "I was going to a barbecue. I saw people all over the street and thought something wasn't right. I heard the gun and thought, 'What are those boys doing with fireworks?' The sound was like those little poppers you throw on the ground and they explode. I saw the victim fall, and I realized what happened. So I called 911 and waited."