Left without heat in freezing temperatures this weekend, tenants at the Gladstone Court Apartments at 146 N. Lawn in Indian Mound found support in their community.
On Friday, Jan. 20, around 2 a.m., a warming fire was started in the basement of the eastern wing of the building that caused an electrical problem. The Kansas City Fire Department responded, knocking down the fire and evacuating residents. The department shut off the building’s gas service, telling residents the electricity and gas couldn’t be turned back on due to numerous code violations and no response from the property owner. Tenants couldn’t cook or heat their unit.
The building is owned under the name 110 White Partners LLC by FTW Investments, a Kansas City-based investment firm that helps “investors build impactful wealth through selective private investments,” founded by Logan Freeman, Parker Webb and Cory Tuck. According to their website, the process involves the acquisition, operation, and eventual disposition of large-scale real estate as a vehicle to provide investors with a safe alternative to traditional stock and bond markets.
“Our primary focus is the protection and preservation of our investors’ wealth; then outsized growth,” their website says. “We are investing in deals that we would do ourselves, without investors.”
FTW owns at least six apartment complexes in Historic Northeast, and those “safe” investments have turned dangerous for dozens of Northeast’s tenants.
Sofia Be, a mother of four, and resident of the building had never met her landlord. However, she knew one place to go for help, Gladstone Elementary, the Kansas City Public School across the street from her apartment that her children attend. She told her daughter’s first grade teacher, Janie Taylor, that they had been without heat and asked for help.
By Saturday, Taylor had connected Be with KC Tenants leaders, who showed up to support the tenants. With the help of KC Tenants, Be began knocking doors in her building, translating information to her Burmese-speaking immigrant neighbors.
“I say, ‘Don’t stay back, move forward,’” Be has been telling her neighbors. “We have to help each other, we have to be warm, we have to stay warm.”
Tenants Chaw Noud and Be began coordinating with the City’s health inspectors, and the City sent a warming bus and offered hotel rooms north of the river to the tenants. Be, along with many of her family members who live in different units and different buildings on the block, decided to stay, despite the cold. Some of their neighbors are sick and can’t travel, others are afraid their belongings will be stolen, and a few stayed for the proximity to work or their children’s schools.
“I can’t drive, I take care of my kids, I take care of my husband,” Be said. “If I move far away, who’s going to drive me if something happens to my kids? Who’s going to drive me to the school? No one. That’s why we don’t plan to leave, whatever happens.”
On Sunday night, the building across the street, also owned by FTW under the name 123 Lawn Partners LLC, was evacuated due to a smell of gas. Monday morning, City inspectors were on the scene to investigate. The preliminary investigation concluded that someone had broken into a vacant unit and left the gas stove on.
KC Tenants organized a supply drive, supported by PH Coffee and Northeast-based tenant leaders, on Sunday to get the remaining tenants warming supplies and food. Three carloads of supplies were delivered and divided up among the tenants.
Monday midday was the first time a member of the ownership group was on site, according to KC Tenants Director Tara Raghuveer, a resident of Northeast who had been there most of the weekend. Parker Webb, one of three owners of FTW Investments, said a representative from his company had, in fact, been there.
Webb sits on the board of reStart Inc., a local nonprofit providing housing and supportive services to homeless children, youth, families, men and women with the goal of helping them move toward independence and self-sufficiency, and ending homelessness in the community.
While Webb declined to make a statement to media on Monday morning, according to a press release from FTW, the building is currently in the process of being sold.
“Property fires of apartment buildings occupied by hard-working Kansas City families is not a new issue in the Historic Northeast,” the press release said. “That same night, there were multiple other fires in the same neighborhood. Unfortunately, this fire was caused by squatters illegally entering the property repeatedly, breaking into vacant units, and starting fires inside of them, as has happened with other buildings in the area both Thursday night and repeatedly in the past year.”
The release quoted Webb, saying the health, safety and well-being of all of the families who live in their properties is his top concern every day.
“As the Chair of the reStart board, I am also passionate about helping end homelessness in our community, and making sure that every single person and family in Kansas City is housed,” the statement continued. “The work, time, efforts, and contributions of myself and FTW Investments to this most important cause is evident.”
KC Tenants leaders have called for Webb and his FTW co-founder Logan Freeman to resign, or for reStart to remove him from its board.
“Our commitment at FTW Investments to safe, clean, healthy housing shows in our long track record of taking workforce housing properties we acquire and improving them so that everyone can live with dignity while still keeping them affordable for working families,” Webb went on to add.
FTW has owned the apartments at 146 N. Lawn for 18 months. The building has received numerous code violations in that time, including no water on Christmas day, rats, being a dangerous structure, trash, squatters in vacant units, four Healthy Homes complaints, and eight property violations.
A public relations consultant for FTW, Mike Hardin, said that FTW had planned to renovate the property, but due to squatters and vandals, they haven’t made any progress. According to CompassKC, the owners have pulled no construction permits.
“We’ve worked diligently to improve it and to make sure that the tenants who live here can do so safely and with dignity,” Hardin said. “It’s what we try to do with every property that we have, and it’s part of our mission to make sure that there’s affordable housing in Kansas City that works for the people who live there.”
Hardin said the ownership was incredibly upset to see this incident here, especially since they’ve hired security patrols, been in regular contact with the police, and tried to be present for their tenants.
Taylor Gibson, who lives behind 146 N. Lawn on Elmwood, said Monday that she has reported violations half a dozen times in the past two years, and has dealt with the poor management of the building in the form of rodents – which cause her to pay monthly for an exterminator – and a trash fire that caught her fence on fire.
“[Webb] says he cares about these buildings, but where’s the response every time there’s a fire or every time we file a complaint with the City?” Gibson asked, following her conversation with Webb on Monday. “When we spoke with the City last week, the lady I talked to, she let us know that the property is on a dangerous property list and that people should not be living in it… Obviously he does not care about his tenants. He does not care about the neighborhood. He says this is his investment, but if he’s truly investing in something, why is it like falling apart? Why isn’t he caring about his tenants? His tenants should be his investment. His tenants deserve better than what he’s been doing.”
Gibson said she feels terrible knowing that her neighbors have been going through this, and wishes she knew the details sooner. She relayed part of her conversation with Webb, who told her that the whole Northeast is full of arsonists and squatters.
“But I’ve seen nothing but improvements in the Northeast since I moved in in 2019,” Gibson said. “So, I don’t know where he’s getting his information. If he really cared about his investment properties, he would be on site, talking to his tenants. He’d be meeting with them regularly and seeing what needs to happen for the buildings to be in good repair.”
Few tenants were willing to speak with media or the City out of fear of retaliation by their landlord. Those who did noted that they have been paying rent, around $500 a month, every single month, despite their concerns with the building: broken windows, unusable appliances, rodent infestations, squatters, and now, no heat and no gas to cook with.
Noud, who has lived in the building with her two sons and her husband for eight years, said it’s hard to get things fixed at the apartment because it keeps being sold. They don’t even know if they’re paying rent to the right property manager, and they haven’t received mail in three months. She and her family are trying to find a house in the area to stay near their school and their jobs, but it’s been hard.
“Every night at like 1 o’clock I walk around to make sure that it’s safe,” Noud said. “If I don’t know that person, I kick them out. I want to be safe in my house and in my neighborhood.”
Tenants at 146 N. Lawn had their gas returned Monday, and after repairs to the furnace, heat was restored Tuesday. Additionally, broken windows and other points of entry were boarded up.
Across the street, on Tuesday afternoon items were being dumped out a window at 123 N. Lawn into a trailer waiting below. It is unknown who hired the clean-up crew, which started emptying the overfilled dumpsters and picking up the piles that had accumulated around FTW’s North Lawn properties on Monday. By Tuesday night, Hardin said FTW had officially closed on the sale and the building was under new ownership.
Taylor, the Gladstone Elementary teacher, started a GoFundMe for her students living at 146 N. Lawn and their families. The Indian Mound neighborhood, who has had concerns about the North Lawn apartments for years, is consulting with Legal Aid on next steps.
The Northeast News will continue providing updates on this situation and other negligent landlords. Next week’s issue will take a deeper dive into how some property investors are hurting the historic community.