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"OK," Park says, "now I've got 3,600 properties and five staff members, not counting me." He chuckles.
At that South Benton house where raccoons may be squatting, Keeney is ready to go inside. The field inspector, one of Park's five staff members, has left the land bank's bland Swope Parkway office to spend this sweltering Tuesday making notes on a handful of properties.
A quick scan of the land bank's website map shows two basic commonalities: that most of the holdings are east of Troost, and that the properties are in closely proximate clusters. There's the one, for example, on Benton Boulevard between East Linwood and East 41st Street: 10 buildings in an eight-block stretch. Another stands between Topping and White avenues, south of Dunbar Park — an area eaten up by encroaching brush and illegal garbage dumping. Some of the single-lane streets look like nature paths rather than thoroughfares, with tree branches hanging low enough to graze passing cars. The bank holds nine properties in this area, and there appear to be even fewer occupied homes.
With the front door inaccessible, Keeney walks around to the overgrown backyard. Normally, he'd use a power drill to remove the screws from the board covering a door. But here, someone has smashed in the wooden cellar door, revealing a 2-foot-wide stone staircase littered with trash and wooden shards and swarmed by giant black flies.
"City of Kansas City!" Keeney yells. "This is city-owned property. Hello?"
No answer. Down Keeney goes.
His first stop is the fuse box, which, as he expected, has been stripped of copper. Upstairs, black mold stretches across the living room and dining room walls almost as completely as a coat of paint. "Fuck this block," reads a graffiti tag. On the floor, raccoon feces. In the future: razing.
"One house I was in the other day had a lot of nursing-school books," Keeney says. "You don't know where people's lives were interrupted, and if they were able to bounce back from an economic hardship."
A block west, another city-owned property, another decaying roof.
Keeney takes off the board over the door. Inside this home, the swiftness of a transition from homeownership to eviction is even starker. The house remains so dense with possessions that it's possible to wonder whether the family might simply be on vacation. Sunlight fills the rooms. The couch is still in the living room. A big dining table waits under a ceiling fan. The basement is cluttered with toys for boys and girls.
Keeney points to a basket of kids' books. He says, "That always breaks my heart —Berenstain Bears." He drills the door board back up on his way out, though this house is as doomed as the last.
He drives to the next property on his list —a sprawling, two-story commercial building at 3200 Gillham, near Martini Corner. The building used to house a laundry business, but the structure has been vacant for years.
"We're getting offers for it," Park says. "I think what happens to it is going to be crucial for the area."
The reason for his optimism is clear enough: The building is in a good location and is big enough to accommodate a range of purposes. But it's in awful condition. Outside the back door, two piles of human excrement wait to be stepped in. Inside, the building is a museum of transient lifestyles: soiled futon mattresses and cushions, a room filled with empty beer cases, a propane tank.