By Abby Hoover
The Lykins neighborhood, named after the first elected mayor of Kansas City, Dr. Johnston Lykins, is undergoing a transformation to add improved housing, more accessible green spaces and aesthetics to the quality of life of its residents. The neighborhood is very diverse with almost 20 languages spoken at the neighborhood Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) elementary school, Whittier.
Lykins is bordered to the north by Independence Avenue, cut diagonally along its southeast border by the Kansas City Terminal Railroad, and to the west by Benton Boulevard.
The neighborhood is currently building a Community Resource Center at 715 Jackson Ave. near Lykins Square Park. By this fall, the center will provide information and access to resources that can help residents address both everyday and personal growth goals that make life easier, safer and more fun. Resources include solutions for homeowner or renter issues, help applying for minor home repair and available grants to assist in rent and utility relief, help with immigration legalities, assistance with technology, computer classes, yoga classes, cooking demonstrations from different cultures and educational presentations.
“The purpose of the resource center is several fold,” said Executive Director Gregg Lombardi. “One, it’s going to be offices for neighborhood association staff and for the staff of Neighborhood Legal Support for the project. And two, it really is going to be a hub for community gatherings of all sorts… We see coming together as being an important part of being a neighborhood and having people in the neighborhood get to know each other is a really important thing, and is part of what we see as a thriving neighborhood. So the goal is a place where people can come and share ideas, share concerns and build community.”
The center will have a large open “family room” in the front that includes a kitchen. They hope to open the center later this month, but there are many factors that could push the completion date.
The Lykins Neighborhood is searching for an artist or artist team to create artwork to be featured in the neighborhood’s new Resource Center. Submissions are due at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 1. More information can be found at lykinsneighborhood.com/about-1.
“It’ll be inside,” Lombardi said of the artwork. “The main area is an open two story area, and so there’s really great opportunities for mural work or other work.”
In 2018, the Lykins Neighborhood, with the expertise of Neighborhood Legal Support, took on an ambitious project to address blight, safety, and quality of life in the neighborhood. Working with almost 20 rehabbers and development groups, the neighborhood has become its own Master Developer with the goal of improving as many properties as possible, developing new ones, and establishing a diverse mix of family incomes that reflects the cultural diversity of the neighborhood.
Redevelopment around the park is key to the vision of the Lykins Neighborhood Association and the many groups they partner with. Lykins currently has a Request for Proposals (RFP) out for nine vacant lots near the park.
“Within two blocks of the park, there must be 20 different properties we’re working on, and that includes 10 houses that are set to be built within the next year within two blocks apart,” Lombardi said. “And to put that in context, prior to 2021, there had not been a new house built in Lykins in 25 years.”
One of the neighborhood’s dedicated partners, Habitat for Humanity KC, completed the neighborhood’s first new construction house in 25 years in 2021. Soon, they’ll open an application for their Habitat Homeownership Program. Habitat provides potential homeowners with the coaching, education and support to be successful in their home buying journey. Click here to watch a short video to learn more.
“We can help you buy a home you love with a mortgage you can afford,” according to the application. “Your options may include buying a home built or rehabbed by Habitat KC or working with a realtor to buy a home on the open market. Applications will be available from March 19 through April 2, 2022.”
Lombardi hopes they’re not just houses, but long-term homes for people who are in the neighborhood who may be in not-so-great quality housing now.
“It should be very high quality housing that will stay high quality housing for many, many years to come, and if we play our cards right, a lot of the housing will remain affordable housing for many years to come,” Lombardi said.
It’ll be a very organic process, Lombardi said, with the 25 rehabbers and builders who have been approved by the neighborhood association to work on the project.
“They all have their different perspectives and business models and so we don’t dictate those to the participating rehabbers and builders, but each of them has to apply for every single property that they want to develop in the project,” Lombardi said. “And so the neighborhood associations’ preference is for owner occupied properties, or for certain service-providing rental properties.”
For example, Healing House, the state’s largest provider of housing for people who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, recently bought a house in Lykins that will house five moms who are trying to reconnect with children they’ve lost as a result of drug and alcohol dependency.
The Lykins Neighborhood Trust has acquired 20 properties to develop, of which 70% will be affordable housing for perpetuity.
“The remainder will be market rate to make it so that they can break even on it, but having 70% be affordable is a fantastic thing for the neighborhood,” Lombardi said. “And that’s something that essentially is gentrification proof.”
The neighborhood gives developers a lot of discretion on how they want to develop the properties.
“We do have what we call Rehab and Building Guidelines, which the neighborhood association has developed. and so those specific quality guidelines are in terms of the quality of the roof, the value of the walls, the quality of the heating and air conditioning systems,” Lombardi said. “So everyone who participates in the program knows that every house that’s done in the program will be good quality with low maintenance and low utility costs, which is in everybody’s interest.”
The neighborhood and all its partners have a total of 120 properties in the project right now, including the Habitat KC builds and the Lykins Neighborhood Trust properties.
“In the coming year, they have a commitment – well, it’s sort of over the next 18 months – they have a commitment to build I think it’s 10 more properties in Lykins, and all very close to Lykins Square Park,” Lombardi said.
Surrounding the park, there are nine vacant lots, and the development of those properties is a huge deal for the Lykins neighborhood.
“Two of them are about an acre each, which is large, and so we are excited for new construction that will be right around the park,” Lombardi said. “One of these properties is immediately north of the park, it’s where the old Lykins Elementary School was, which is a really fun piece of property. Another is the big piece of property on the west end of the park. We’re optimistic that we’ll get a good number of applications to develop those properties and that can be as much as 15 units or more of new housing going in right by the park.”
It hasn’t been determined whether the infill will be single family homes, duplexes or multi-family units, but the opportunity for variety is exciting for the neighborhood.
“One of the great things about the process is that we’re really leaving the door wide open to whatever developers want to do,” Lombardi said. “I think we’ll get a whole range of suggestions, and it could be anything from just a series of individual houses to an apartment complex. It’s whatever people are excited about, and then the neighborhood association gets to look at all the information about all the proposals and then make a decision.”
Bringing positive activity back to the neighborhood and helping residents new and old feel safe visiting is a main priority of the neighborhood association.
“One of the coolest things about it is, particularly where parks go, there is a very strong correlation between good quality housing and bringing down violent crime, and when we started on the project four years ago, the Lykins Square Park was a Jackson County COMBAT designated high violent crime area,” Lombardi said. “There was a lot of crime in the park, which made people not want to live close to the park, which meant that a lot of houses were in disrepair around the park and got demolished. That just encouraged more crime in the park because there are practically no eyes on the park. One of our goals is to bring the park back to life, and in doing that, push crime away.”
The Lykins Neighborhood Association has received dollars from the City to make more improvements to the Lykins Square Park. At a meeting last week, residents chose some priorities for the entire neighborhood to vote on. The main priority was a bathroom, followed closely by drinking fountains and improved lighting. Now, the neighborhood will explore how to add these amenities, with safety and cleanliness as a priority.
“We have funding to build at least one shelter, which will be about 25 by 35 feet, and so that’ll be a place where people can come and have picnics, family events,” Lombardi said. “There will also be a promenade in the center of the park going north to south, the promenade will be large enough to have open air markets on the weekends, or whenever people want to do it.”
As part of the promenade, there will be a central plaza feature, which will have a public arts project including roughly 400 handprints from kids at Whittier Elementary School, as well as a couple hundred handprints of neighborhood residents and stakeholders. Park upgrades should be completed by Spring 2023.
“The concept is that the kids will actually be making their mark on the park, and so they can go to the park anytime they want and show their family and friends, ‘That’s my handprint!’ and kind of feel a sense of ownership in the park,” Lombardi said.
The Lykins Neighborhood Association meets the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. With nearly half the neighborhood speaking Spanish, and immigrants and refugees from all over the world, the neighborhood makes translators available for Spanish, Swahili, French and other common languages. In the future, he hopes they can reach more African, Vietnamese and Syrian residents and provide translation to them, as well.
“It is really important that people really feel included and really get a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns,” Lombardi said.