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KC housing nonprofit ‘overhaul’ after fire in run-down building owned by council members

Kansas City Homeless Services nonprofit reStart said Friday it was “thoroughly investigating” a situation involving a fire last week in a run-down apartment building owned by two board members.

Board members Parker Webb and Logan Freeman owned an apartment complex in northeast Kansas City where residents went without heat for several days, but tenants said the building’s condition had been poor for some time. of time.

Webb told The Star that his company, FTW Investments, had sold properties and the closing papers were signed the day before the fire.

Since the dilapidated complex was discovered to have been owned by FTW since March 2021, several community members, including renter advocacy group KC Tenants, have publicly expressed concern about Webb and Freeman’s involvement with reStart and have pushed for their removal.

A written statement from reStart’s chief executive, Stephanie Boyer, indicated that the organization was aware of the situation but stopped short of announcing any decision. Boyer outlined reStart’s mission and intent to provide services to those in need.

“We will continue to relentlessly pursue our mission and believe now, more than ever, that access to affordable, quality housing is a priority for all Kansas citizens,” he wrote.

Conditions at the apartment complex

Public attention to the apartment complex at North Lawn Avenue and Scarritt Avenue came last weekend following a fire on January 20, when Kansas City Firefighters were unable to turn the gas back on due to of numerous code violations in the Webb and Freeman building.

Several windows and doors are boarded up with duct tape and wooden boards. Leaks, squatters, and electrical problems have gone months without being fixed and extension cords are going from one unit to another.

The city provided temporary housing for some residents after nearly two days of being unable to reach management, though many tenants chose to stay on, expressing a desire to stay close to work and a fear of leaving.

A neighbor, Tara Zink, said she has complained numerous times in the city since moving into a house behind the apartments in 2019. Garbage overflows, causing dumpster fires and mice and rat infestations in Zink and her backyards. neighbors.

Sofia Be, a resident, is standing in front of her house. She feels that the owner and property managers of the building do not take their responsibilities seriously.

With people constantly breaking into the complex, tenant Sofia Be said she doesn’t feel safe in her home.

Across the street, officials evacuated another FTW-owned building at 131 North Lawn Ave. due to a gas leak Sunday. The residents of that building were also relocated to temporary housing.

Response from FTW Investments

Webb was not immediately reachable for comment on Friday. He wrote in a statement last week that his company responded to the incident as quickly as possible.

Chaw Noud carries his nephew out of his condo January 23 in Kansas City.

Webb further added that the situation shouldn’t be blamed on the people who are working to make housing “cheap and nice” for Kansas City, but rather on the people who are constantly breaking in.

“It is unacceptable and highly regrettable that the people who have done this have done so with no regard for the lives of those around them who legally live in that building and rely on it to be close to their children’s schools, their work and to their community,” Webb said.

“FTW Investments will continue to ensure that this property is livable, even as we prepare to sell it to another company, and will not leave people who rely on us for their housing without options.”

Critics say owners are ‘slumlords’

Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, said her organization was unfamiliar with FTW Investments until last weekend.

The advocacy group called Webb and Freeman “slumlords” and said their business interests and treatment of tenants through FTW conflict with reStart’s mission.

“Many leaders in our base, tenants of that property, many people in the community are quite horrified that people would leave their neighbors in the condition these buildings are in,” Raghuveer said.

Raghuveer said she was concerned that FTW, a for-profit real estate company whose website states its goal of building wealth for investors, holds two seats on reStart’s board. She also wondered why an organization receiving city dollars would work with a company whose properties violated city codes.

“Their entire business model is based on buying distressed properties, making a minimal investment, extracting as much rent as possible, and then potentially reversing the sale,” he said.

A woman, bundled up in winter clothes, looks out of her apartment January 23 in Kansas City. The multi-family unit had had no heat for days.

On Thursday, KC Tenants wrote an open letter to reStart, and its board of directors launched a petition, calling for Webb and Freeman to be removed. Raghuveer said the initiative has garnered hundreds of signatures, including from the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association, where the property is located.

KC Tenants has also been in contact with several city officials and nonprofit landlords who have expressed concerns about Webb and Freeman’s presence on the reStart board, Raghuveer said.

While FTW said it responded quickly to the incident and found safe temporary housing for the tenants, residents and the tenants union said this was not the case.

“Tenants had to organize themselves for vital resources,” wrote KC Tenants.

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