By Kevin Collison
Developer Kelley Hrabe is scrambling to salvage his plan to build 400 affordable apartments downtown following a sudden shift in state policy and plans to pitch his project for the long-dormant East Village redevelopment area.
Hrabe of Prairie Fire Development was about to announce his residential project at another downtown location when Gov. Greitens abruptly jeopardized the deal by announcing Nov. 17 he was cutting the low-income tax credit program from the budget.
The developer said the state low-income tax credits were vital to financing the project he envisioned for an undisclosed site within the downtown Loop.
“If we can’t go with the current site, we’ll continue to fight the fight,” Hrabe said. “I’m meeting with city officials this week to begin discussions about a fallback position in the East Village.”
The governor’s decision to eliminate low-income tax credits has been criticized by mayors across the state.
A new group that Mayor Sly James helped form, Missouri Mayors United for Progress, has released a letter asking the Missouri Housing Development Commission to reject the governor’s plan.
“This funding plan–if enacted next month–will eviscerate a program that has provided housing for so many vulnerable citizens,” the letter stated. “The number of affordable units built and preserved will collapse and rents will skyrocket.”
Downtown Kansas City has seen a huge boom in market-rate apartment construction in recent years, but for many people who would like to live downtown, the rents have been beyond their reach.
The average rent for a downtown apartment is $1,175, according to Real Page, a national property management information firm.
Hrabe recently developed a 108-unit affordable apartment project development in the Columbus Park neighborhood of downtown. The rents on its affordable units are about $600 for a one-bedroom, and $675 for a two-bedroom.
“There’s a lot of luxury housing being built downtown, but what’s extremely underserved is affordable housing,” he said. “If we want to be a diverse downtown that everyone can be part of we need moderate and affordable housing.”
Hrabe is meeting this week with City Councilman Quinton Lucas who has been championing affordable housing in downtown and elsewhere in the city.
“I think it’s a priority right now as we’ve invested in downtown as an entertainment place and work place,” Lucas said. “I’d be very receptive to anyone wanting to build in the East Village. We’ve been talking about it for a decade now.”
The East Village redevelopment area is an eight-block area east of Ilus W. Davis Park that was established by the city in 2005. VanTrust Real Estate has the development rights to the area.
So far, the only projects that have been built are a headquarters for the J.E. Dunn Construction Co. that opened at 11th and Locust in 2009, and a 50-unit affordable apartment project built by Swope Community Developers at 950 Holmes in 2011.
Hrabe plans to suggest building his 400-unit development on a city-owned block in the East Village. He said the city has incentive programs available in the redevelopment area that could make the project work financially without the state low-income tax credit program.
“I believe the political will is there,” he said. “We have a window of opportunity that is not perpetual. It’s going to close and we could miss an opportunity to provide affordable, workforce housing downtown.”
Lucas believes VanTrust would be receptive to the idea.
“I think VanTrust would be willing to work with us if we came up with a package that makes sense,” the Councilman said.
VanTrust officials could not be reached for comment.