Kansas City homelessness services nonprofit reStart said Friday it is “thoroughly reviewing” a situation involving a fire last week at a dilapidated apartment building owned by two board members.
Board members Parker Webb and Logan Freeman owned an apartment complex in northeast Kansas City where residents were left without heat for several days, but tenants said conditions at the building had been poor for quite some time.
Webb told The Star his company, FTW Investments, had sold property, and closing papers were signed the day before the fire.
Since discovering the rundown complex was owned by FTW since March 2021, several community members, including renters’ advocacy group KC Tenants, have publicly raised concerns about Webb and Freeman’s involvement with reStart and pushed for their removal.
A written statement from reStart’s chief executive officer Stephanie Boyer indicated that the organization was aware of the situation but stopped short of announcing any decision. Boyer emphasized reStart’s mission and intent to provide services for 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 Citians,” she wrote.
Conditions at apartment complex
Public attention to the apartment complex on North Lawn Avenue and Scarritt Avenue came about last weekend following a fire on Jan. 20, when the Kansas City Fire Department was unable to turn the gas back on due to numerous code violations at Webb and Freeman’s building.
Several windows and doors are boarded-up with duct tape and wooden planks. Leaks, squatters, and electrical problems have gone months without being addressed, and extension cords run from one unit to the next.
The city provided temporary housing for a few of the residents after nearly two days of being unable to reach management, though many tenants chose to stay, expressing a desire to stick close to work and fear of leaving.
One neighbor, Tara Zink, said she’s complained numerous times to the city since moving into a home behind the apartments in 2019. Trash overflows, causing dumpster fires and rat and mice infestations in Zink and her neighbors’ backyards.
With people constantly breaking into the complex, tenant Sofia Be said she doesn’t feel safe in her own home.
Across the street, officials evacuated another FTW-owned building at 131 North Lawn Ave. because of a gas leak Sunday. Residents from that building were also transferred to temporary housing.
Response from FTW Investment
Webb could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday. He wrote in a statement last week that his company responded to the incident as quickly as they could.
Webb further added that the situation should not be blamed on the people who are working to make housing “affordable and nice” for Kansas City, but instead on the individuals who continually break in.
“It is unacceptable and highly regrettable that the people who did this did so without 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 their community,” Webb said.
“FTW Investments will continue to make sure this property is livable, even as we prepare to sell it to another company, and will not leave the people who rely on us for their housing without options.”
Critics say owners are ‘slumlords’
Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, said her organization wasn’t familiar with FTW Investments until this past weekend.
The advocacy group called Webb and Freeman “slumlords” and said their business interests and treatment of tenants through FTW conflicts with the mission of reStart.
“A lot of leaders at our base, tenants at that property, a lot of people in the community are pretty horrified that people could leave their own neighbors in the types of conditions that these buildings are in,” Raghuveer said.
Raghuveer said she’s concerned that FTW – a for-profit real estate company whose website states their goal to build wealth for investors – holds two seats on reStart’s board. She also wondered why an organization that receives city dollars works with a company whose properties have violated city codes.
“Their whole business model is predicated on buying distressed properties, making very minimal investment, extracting as much rent as possible and then potentially flipping the sale,” she said.
On Thursday, KC Tenants penned an open letter to reStart and its board of directors launched a petition, calling for Webb and Freeman’s removal. Raghuveer said the initiative gathered signatures from hundreds, including the Neighborhood Association of Indian Mound, where the property is located.
KC Tenants has also been in touch with several city officials and nonprofit owners that have expressed concern over having Webb and Freeman on reStart’s board, Raghuveer said.
While FTW claimed it responded quickly to the incident and found tenants safe temporary housing, residents and the tenants’ union said that wasn’t the case.
“Tenants were left to organize for vital resources themselves,” KC Tenants wrote.