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."
The president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association is David Kimmis, a slim, 47-year-old designer who moved to Hyde Park six years ago. Three days after Holman's slaying, he presided over a meeting with neighborhood leaders, police and residents at the Central Presbyterian Church at Armour and Campbell.
Kimmis: "I think there has been a change on Armour, as far as more people living on Armour, and along with that comes some additional issues. The apartments we see as trouble spots, the ones who have the highest police calls, are the Bainbridge, Homestead and Kenwood Apartments. If you look at the data, it's not hard to tell where the problems are coming from."
At the Kenwood, 619 East Armour, police reports for 2008 and 2009 show one rape, two aggravated assaults, one armed robbery, five burglaries, six nonaggravated assaults, six cases of possessing drugs with intent to sell or distribute, five reports of property damage, one case of resisting an officer, three incidents of stolen auto parts, four cases of trespassing and one car theft.
At the Homestead, 811 East Armour: five aggravated assaults, two car thefts, three burglaries, one report of harassment, two of concealing a dangerous weapon, one of intimidating behavior, six nonaggravated assaults, nine cases of possessing narcotics (eight of which included sale or distribution), two counts of resisting an officer, one report of a pickpocket, one of stealing from a car, two of trespassing, and one dead body.
And at the Bainbridge, 908 East Armour: 61 cases of nonaggravated assault, 26 cases of drug possession (of which 24 included sale or distribution), four rapes, 37 reports of trespassing, one of resisting arrest, two weapons violations, five of resisting an officer, a dozen reports of property damage, three of forgery, 13 aggravated assaults, six of intimidation, four auto thefts, four armed robberies, five strong-arm robberies, 11 burglaries, and four incidents of a person concealing a dangerous weapon.
The Bainbridge is owned by Eagle Point. California businessman Russell McKee owns the Homestead as well as the Kenwood, which is managed by Lenexa-based SJB Real Estate.
Capt. Mark Terman, Kansas City Police Department: "All of Hyde Park is getting more integrated than it ever has been in the past. The changes came when they reopened some of those apartment buildings as intense Section 8 housing. You started to see more violent crime."
Eugene Lipscomb, deputy director at HUD for the Kansas City metro area, wasn't at the meeting. At the mention of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, he laughs cynically.
Lipscomb: "HUD hasn't done any new Section 8 housing [citywide] since the 1970s and '80s. Some were 20-year contracts, some 30-year, some 40. It was mostly done during the Reagan years. ... If you've lived in Hyde Park 20 years, you know the situation. It hasn't really changed. But single-family, predominantly white homes have been growing over the last 10 or 15 years in Hyde Park. There's momentum now. There were attempts by the neighborhood association to stop the renovation of the Bainbridge, Georgian Court and at least one other property because they didn't want them to be Section 8 properties. The neighborhood association has always asked for mixed-income. I don't know that there's really been an increase in crime because it's an issue that's been brought to us over and over again over the years. But now there's more people living on the boulevard. Eagle Point has a good reputation as a management company. You have to believe that if there were people there that didn't meet qualifications, they weren't moving back in."
In the last few years, Chicago's MAC Property Management, which has little interest in courting poor tenants, has purchased apartment buildings and given them stylish new names: Armour Towers at 640 East Armour, for example, became Six40. MAC also operates the Del Monte, Bellerive, Park Central, 3408 Gillham, Yankee Manor, Gillham House, Raleigh Arms, Hamilton and Brownhardt buildings, which are scattered down the block between the properties viewed as trouble spots. The company's Web site describes Hyde Park to potential renters as "a neighborhood that offers ease, style — and the ultimate in city living." MAC's most dangerous property, the Hamilton, was connected to six incidents in 2009, almost all of them related to stealing.
Peter Cassel, MAC Property Management director of community development: "We started buying back in 2006. We have a specialty in 1920s apartment hotels, and that neighborhood has some great examples. The Hamilton, for instance — that's a classic old building. It used to be a methadone clinic, and we bought it and brought back the classic presentation and put in contemporary apartments. People really like living in these buildings. Especially if they can get a great new kitchen and high-quality fixtures."
Rodney Knott came back to his hometown in 2002, after years of doing computer work in major cities around the country. He first settled on the corner of Armour and Holmes; he now lives a couple of blocks outside of Hyde Park but maintains close ties with the neighborhood association. He also is the executive director of an organization called ReEngage, which is focused on reuniting families in the urban core.
Knott: "If the complexion of the neighborhood hadn't changed, would there be an outcry now? I don't know. There were those who saw an opportunity to build a neighborhood, but I don't think they were aware of what an urban neighborhood entails, the challenges that need to be addressed. And one of those challenges is an apathy toward crime. Some things are allowed to happen because folks turn their back on it. There's been an influx of people not accustomed to turning their back."
Chris Harper, 28, grew up in Raytown and bought a home in Hyde Park two years ago. He's an attorney for Shook, Hardy & Bacon and is one of the more active members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.
Harper: "I wanted to buy here because one, the location. It's a pretty pivotal part of midtown. It's unique architecturally and culturally in the city. There's a neighborhood mentality here in the ownership of the neighborhood. I joined the neighborhood association because I fell in love with Hyde Park and wanted to get involved and meet people active in the community."
Cassel: "What we've done is reach out to local employers and institutions in this area. We looked at Hospital Hill and talked directly to people who worked there about looking at Hyde Park as a place to live. We talked with folks who work downtown and want to live closer. Then we reached out to a whole range of institutions to the south, from UMKC to the Kansas City Art Institute and the business school and all those service workers on the Country Club Plaza. We reached out to all those employers who have people living and working in this city, many of whom don't want to buy a house yet and who hadn't seen a product like ours in Hyde Park before."
A woman in her early 20s stands on the steps of the Bainbridge. She wears a red track jacket over a white T-shirt. On the T-shirt is a picture of a young man, his red hat tilted to the side, lying on his side, propped up on one elbow. Below the image is his name and date of death. The woman refuses to give her name and says she doesn't live in the building.
Bainbridge Resident: "You ain't scared being here? You got a gun, you got anything on you? You better have something if you coming around here. You can leave right now or get shot."
A day after this exchange, Ashley Thomas, 25, and her unidentified boyfriend were shot in their car at the intersection outside the Bainbridge. The boyfriend survived, but Thomas, nine months pregnant, died at the hospital. When the boyfriend regained consciousness, he identified the shooter as Calvin A. Boswell, who has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder, four counts of armed criminal action, and two counts of first-degree murder.
Holman Shooting Witness: "People don't want to get involved for one reason or another. They don't want to be a snitch. I'm a mother and I wouldn't want my son to be left alone in the middle of the street. ... The other people who'd come out were thanking me and apologizing for taking up my time. Someone's dying, and they were used to it and apologizing to me."
At 62, Gene Morgan has some of the deepest roots in the neighborhood. His parents and grandparents lived in Hyde Park most of their lives. Of those who agree to speak with The Pitch, Morgan is also the only neighborhood association member who says he has had direct experience with crime in the area.
Morgan: "I've had three burglaries. The first time, they didn't steal anything. At first, I was mad they broke in — then I was mad they didn't think we had anything worth stealing. The second time, they trashed the place. Then there was another two years ago. From what I gather, it was a couple of high-school kids looking for video games, and we didn't have any, so they ended up snatching a couple of worthless things. My wife was physically assaulted in 1980 while walking home, but she talked her way out of it. I had a car stolen out of my driveway. It was found parked behind Paseo High School. We've had cars parked in the street with the windows kicked in. Then there was a lawnmower stolen out of the garage. We used to hear shots, and you'd immediately hear a police alarm, but it seems like you don't hear the police alarm now."
Kimmis: "There's been a lot of property mismanagement. Lots of out-of-town owners that don't care. Yes, MAC is renovating properties, and they are from Chicago, but there's a difference because they're renovating properties at market value, and the rest are subsidizing properties as Section 8. Eagle Point's people live in a very wealthy part of Maine, and I don't think they're worried about what happens in Hyde Park."
Todd Alexander is managing director of Eagle Point. He says buying the properties was a $60 million transaction. HUD had had existing Section 8 contracts requiring anyone who bought the properties to honor a 20-year contract that would keep 303 units designated as Section 8 housing.
Alexander: "There's a crime problem on Armour, and a lot of people want to view it through the prism of Section 8. We try to have good tenants and we have a screening process and a one-strike-and-you're-out eviction policy if you don't behave. You can't rent in our buildings if you have a criminal background. You have to pass a credit-history check. You have to have a positive landlord reference. If they pass through all that screening, we can't say we don't want to rent to you just because you're Section 8. We can't choose based on the source of their income; that's illegal. Since we took over in 2006, we've spent more than a million dollars on private security services and of duty patrols. We've done more than 100 evictions since we've taken over. We spent $225,000 to pay for tenant services, including classes on how to write résumés and how to find jobs. There are all sorts of services there to help them become active participants in the neighborhood."
Clifford Doyle, 58, has lived in Hyde Park for 20 years but grew up in Chicago. There he saw projects like the notoriously violent Cabrini-Green firsthand. Today he does outreach for students in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District.
Doyle: "Kansas City is relatively behind the times. In another town, a developer wouldn't take a building like the Bainbridge or anything else on Armour and make a building 90 percent Section 8 housing. In Chicago, they don't allow that. I know young men are attracted to the females in that building, and the fact that they're coming down to visit is what causes a lot of the problems. I work with a lot of students who lived in the Bainbridge some years back. And when there were mixed incomes in that building, there was less crime in the building. You make it mixed-income, and you put people in there with other lifestyles and aspirations and make it a requirement to attend tenant meetings. Then the people who are Section 8 will come away with the desire to aspire to another level of existence as opposed to Section 8."
Lipscomb: [They] would like to see a reduction in Section 8 on Armour, and the association asked us how it can be done. Basically, if the complexes that have Section 8, as long as they're operating their buildings in accordance with the law, we cannot take any action to move residents or change Section 8. The message the neighborhood association seems to send is that we have all this Section 8 here, and if we get rid of Section 8, we'll get rid of the crime, and it's not necessarily true. There needs to be a community solution. HUD can't solve it. The police can't solve it alone; the neighborhood association can't do it alone."
Knott: "I think folks have moved into Hyde Park and allowed other people to tell them not to bother working with the people in those buildings or engaging them in this process. I've personally been told it's a waste of time to talk to the residents of those buildings. I've personally heard, at neighborhood meetings, people in those buildings referred to as Hyde Park residents 'in name only.' What does that even mean? I believe that there are people living in those apartments who are terrified."
Mercedes is in her early 20s and lives in the Bainbridge. She goes to school at UMKC during the day. She wears a black hoodie and jeans and carries a backpack. She doesn't know that anyone's been talking about the building where she lives.
Mercedes: "I don't hear anything about that. I'm not around here a lot. I go to school. I mean, yeah, I think it's a problem as far as who they move in here and all that. I think they should choose wisely who they move in, but there's always going to be crime no matter where you go. Nothing bad ever happened to me. I don't think people are coming down here because women live in the buildings. No one's ever come to talk to me about anything in the neighborhood. I've never heard of that happening. If they trying to make the community better, come talk to us and let us know what's going on around here."
Knott: "There are those who have an interest in keeping folks divided. My concern is, these folks are Hyde Park residents whether we like it or not. But I have yet to see them have a place at the table. What we've had is folks who've talked around them. The thing we have to understand is, 90 percent of the crime is being perpetrated against these people. We need to look at the reality that the people being affected by the crimes are the ones living in these places ... . I believe that for some people, this is not a racial issue. But I'm concerned because up until now, the way it's been presented in the local media is as a racial issue. Like these people we're talking about moved into this fine upstanding neighborhood and started going crazy."
Alexander: "A resident of ours was mugged at gunpoint, and she goes back to the apartment and calls the police. Then the neighborhood residents get upset and say we're attracting crimes. How can you reprimand someone for calling the police when outside of their house someone is mugging them? How are we not supposed to pick up the phone and call people?"
Harper: "I don't know if it's the neighborhood association's job to hang out outside the Bainbridge and say, 'How can we help you?' Is that our role? I don't know that. If you're in a warehouse of a 10-story building where everyone's below the poverty level, it's hard to see beyond that. I don't know if moving everyone is the solution. It's not my job. It's our job to call attention to the problem."
Kimmis: "I think crime has gotten worse. The intersection of Armour and Harrison alone had 39 calls to 911 in the first eight months of 2008, and in the first eight months of 2009 they had 189. That's a huge increase. And the only difference is, those buildings are full."
Lipscomb: "We've had questions about the increase in statistics the neighborhood association has put out. We've had meetings with the neighborhood association, and when people make allegations, we ask them to back them up. The neighborhood-association stats are different from the crime numbers we receive from the police department and the codes department. So you have three different groups providing three different numbers, and you would think the police and codes department would be more reliable. The neighborhood-association stats tend to be higher. A lot of these buildings have hired off-duty police officers to act as security guards, and they have to file a report as part of their work, and right there that can inflate the statistics: You'll have one actual crime report and then a second report. Then there's crime reported at the address where no one living at the address, or even in the building, was really involved. A cop stops a guy on the street and asks for his address — he's not going to give his real address. He says, 'Oh, I live right there' and points at the nearest building. A few months ago, we had a meeting with the neighborhood association, and they brought up the allegations again, and we asked them to get some information to us since their numbers have always been the highest. It's been a few months, and they have not, to date, gotten back to us."
Kimmis: "We've never been contacted by HUD about that."
Doyle: "One call, 30 calls, one death, two deaths. What's the difference?"
Another Bainbridge resident, also in her 20s, speaks to The Pitch but refuses to give a name. She's walking into the building, leading a little girl by the hand. She says it's her daughter. She says she's Section 8.
Bainbridge Resident No. 2: "Why they talking about us? Why don't they talk about that crack house down there [she gestures across the street] or that crack house down there? People be hanging out 'cause they going to the crack house, not to see us. We just got to live with it. If they want to move us, where they going to move us to? They think moving us is going to make my life better? Where's that going to be?"
Holman Shooting Witness: "The kids that shot him looked right at me before they left. They looked at my car and ran off. I was there for an hour and a half. For all I know they were watching the whole thing from the next building. I went downtown to give a video witness report. No one else stayed. I never heard from the cops about it again. I know there was another shooting later that night. I understand there's a lot of fear in the community. I lived in Hyde Park in the '80s and early '90s. Violence comes and it goes there. You have to be aware of where you're at."
Knott: "Part of the problem is, we have folks thinking everyone's playing by the same playbook. It's not that these folks don't want to be good neighbors. It's that they don't know what one is. You have to redefine all those things that make up the whole person."
Police have charged Nathan Brown, 28, with shooting Taylor Holman. Brown remains at large.