Born and raised in KC’s urban core, Ajia Morris and her husband Christopher wanted to buy a home together east of Troost Street and live in the same community they grew up in. In their search, they realized most of the homes in the area were in very poor condition and costly to renovate.
The Morrises found a home on Benton they were interested in buying, but the house was filled with trash, had a family of raccoons living in it and needed some major improvements.
They bought it anyway and decided to fix it up. During the process, they came up with the idea of doing the same with other blighted houses in the area and to make them available for individuals already living in the community.
They decided to name the program the Greenline Initiative, as a positive reversal of the historic practice of redlining, a practice by some mortgage lenders not to lend money or extend credit to borrowers in certain areas of town. The area east of Troost Street is one of the many predominantly Black communities in America that have been historically discriminated against when it came to purchasing property or acquiring loans to purchase housing.
“There are still redlines in effect around Black and Brown low-income communities,” Morris said. “These homes are valued less than homes West of Troost because of ZIP code, because of crime rate and because of things that systemic oppression have put in place.”
Those unfair practices have made it difficult for the Black community east of Troost Street to renovate and fix up the neighborhood’s properties, leaving the urban core without the same support as their west-of-Troost Street counterparts.
Solution to Redlining
The Morrises see their “public services” business as a solution to redlining and as a way to address the growing vacancy rate and declining property value in the area
With the help of crowdsourced financing, they are renovating homes east of Troost and selling them as a way to help others help build generational wealth. To make sure they don’t encourage gentrification, a process where renovation of inner city neighborhoods leads to the displacement of the poor, the Morrises are only selling the homes to individuals who already live in the community and at an affordable price.
Greenline also uses over 90% minority and women-owned businesses in the renovation process.
Renovation of the Greenline Initiative’s first house at 3431 Benton was self-financed, but the couple has implemented a crowd-sourced funding process that allows individuals to invest in their renovation projects at an affordable price. An individual can invest in a Greenline home for $500. If things go according to plan, it takes 60 to 90 days to fully renovate the home and then 30 days to sell it. When the house is sold, the investors receive their investment plus their share of the profit on the sell.
Greenline is looking for investors from all areas, but Morris is particularly interested in attracting investors from the urban core. Beyond just a monetary return on their investment, the program pays benefits in other ways. A lower vacancy rate in the area will help decrease crime, eliminate blight, increase the property tax base, turn a renter into a homeowner and if the family has a child, increase that child’s chances of graduating high school. It also helps to build generational wealth, with a home being the predominant source of wealth for most families in America.
The Benefits of Filling Vacant Homes
According to 24/7 Wall Street, an online financial news service, the 64128-ZIP code is the eighth most vacant area in the nation. High vacancy rates are indicative of low demand for housing, and most of the areas on the list have reported a population decline in the past five years and a decline in home values.
According to the analysis, 18% of the homes in 64128 are vacant, compared to a national average of 1.8% vacancy rate. True to form, the current average property value in the area, $38,900, represents a 22% decline during the past five years. The report identifies 934 vacant properties in the area.
“People aren’t really checking for houses over here. They know it’s going to be awful and it’s not, so it’s just like hidden gems,” said Morris at a town hall meeting hosted by Councilwoman Melissa Robinson in July. “We’re trying to change that false narrative of what you can do if you just try hard enough because we do know that there’s systemic oppression and things in place to prevent us from being successful even if we do everything right.”
Standing in the gap
Sometimes, families do not have the time and experience to go through the traditional process of purchasing a home and fixing it up. That’s where the Greenline Initiative really shines. They’re also there to help individuals navigate the home-buying process.
Morris said that one thing many on the East Side don’t know is that as an incentive to encourage revitalization in the area, homeowners who make significant improvements on their property can qualify for a property tax abatement that freezes their current property tax bill where it is for up to 10 years. Instead of paying taxes on their improved properties’ new higher assessed value, homeowners are taxed on a much lower property tax value.
“That sort of very common knowledge that us as East Siders don’t have, is something that we’re missing out on, but that’s a huge savings,” Morris said. “We’re here to help other people navigate this process because there are some benefits and if you want to live here, we should reap the rewards of it.”
The Greenline Initiative’s biggest success so far is the renovation and sell of the Benton house. After the Morrises put it on the market, it only took 15 days for the property to sell. The once trashed, abandoned house is now transformed into the perfect family home. Now, they’re noticing improvements being made to other homes nearby.
“People are like, I’m not going to look bad,” Morris said, noting the major renovations some neighboring homes have undergone since they fixed up the Benton house.
The second house Greenline Initiative purchased on Bales Street has already met its investor goal and renovation work is underway.
To learn more about Greenline Initiative, how to invest or how to purchase one of their homes, visit them online at GreenlineInitiative.com.
Local Artists Helping Support
The Greenline Initiative is holding its first major fundraiser, a virtual event, on Fri., Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. The event, Greenline Grows KC, will be streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
Local artists - including Radkey, Khrystal, and the Phantastics - are partnering with 90.9 The Bridge, Manor Records, Center Cut Records and more to highlight Black excellence throughout Kansas City. Other appearances will include Mayor Quinton Lucas, Deanna Munoz of the Latino Foundation for the Arts and G.S. Griffin, author of “Racism in Kansas City: A Short History.”
While the event will be free, individuals are encouraged to make donations. For a minium $25 donation, individuals can receive a merchandise set that includes a 22” bandana featuring the artwork of local artists Warren ‘Stylez’ Harvey and a 4” vinyl sticker designed by Jasmine Ali.
“This will be the first major thing for Greenline and it’s because of artists that believe in what we’re doing and want to see people owning their own home,” Morris said.
More information about the event and the Greenline Initiative can be found at Bit.ly/greenlinegrowskc.