After months of organizing with KC Tenants, residents of apartment buildings on North Lawn Avenue have reached an agreement to stay in their homes at an affordable rate.
The property in the Indian Mound neighborhood of Northeast Kansas City, which has been home to immigrant and refugee families for years, has been historically neglected.
KC Tenants began organizing with the North Lawn tenants in January after the building lost heat following a building fire and organized a solidarity supply drive to support the tenants. At the time, the properties were owned by FTW Investments.
Left with few options on such short notice and not wanting to uproot their families, one tenant reached out to her child’s teacher at Gladstone Elementary, across the street. That teacher, Janie Taylor, put them in touch with KC Tenants, a city-wide tenant union, to help them organize.
The owner, FTW Investments, sold 118-146 and 135 North Lawn to Wiser KC LLC, also known as ERA Holdings, in late January for $2.4 million. Owner Eli Rosenblatt hired Rubicon Property Management to oversee the rehabilitation and management of the property. Rosenblatt owns several other properties in Kansas City, and specifically in Northeast.
Wiser KC has intentions to renovate the buildings, and has already begun work on some vacant units. On February 15, tenants received lease non-renewal notices from Rubicon and ERA Holdings, noting that they could apply for a unit at the price of $1,000 a month.
Tenants held a rally, supported by the union, neighbors, educators and elected officials on February 27, which began conversations with neighborhood leaders. They chanted “We won’t go!” in their native languages.
On March 10, KC Tenants sent a letter with demands to Rosenblatt with 495 signatures supporting their cause. On March 17, KC Tenants knocked doors at the property again, with a bilingual tenant to translate, to inform residents of updates.
On April 1, KC Tenants called for community members to send text messages to Rosenblatt, demanding a response to the tenants’ demands. He responded by April 3, and that conversation initiated the month-long negotiations.
KC Tenants gave a tour of the buildings to City Council members Eric Bunch, Kevin O’Neill and Andrea Bough on April 10. Wiser KC, the City of Kansas City, Mo., and residents of the building reached a deal on Friday, April 28.
“Tenants will be relocated into safe, recently rehabilitated units on the same property,” KC Tenant leader Tara Raghuveer wrote in an email to the Northeast News on May 1. “Their rent will remain at $400 per unit, per month, and the City will subsidize the remaining $450 per unit rent, conditioned on a set of tenant protections. The agreement with the City represents a historic and precedent-setting intervention to protect family and neighborhood stability in the face of displacement.”
The agreement between the City and Wiser KC has a term of two years. Tenants will be guaranteed relocation without needing to apply for their units or pay security deposits, and they will be relocated to units of comparable size and number of bedrooms, and that guarantee accessibility accommodations as needed. Conditions of the deal include barring the landlord from increasing the rent during the term of the agreement.
The deal puts protections in place for the tenants. If a tenant is late on their share of rent, late fees will not surpass a one-time $40 fee, and the landlord will not charge any other arbitrary fees or fines. The landlord will not be able to evict any tenant during the term of the agreement, except in extenuating circumstances that are defensible in court.
Every tenant who is party to the agreement will receive a year-to-year lease, which will automatically renew upon the expiration of each lease term for a new year-to-year lease. Additionally, as the building has been sold many times in recent years, the landlord will notify the tenants as soon as the property is listed as a part of a sale.
The landlord guaranteed that every formal notice will be translated into the tenants’ native languages, and the landlord guaranteed that a tenant can request interpretation before any entry into their unit.
For years, negligent landlords left the tenants on North Lawn to live in buildings with broken and boarded-up windows and doors, fires, leaks, pests, frequent break-ins, unresponsive management and ownership, a lack of maintenance and vital repairs, and dangerous gas and heat outages.
The properties were cited for building violations, health code violations, dozens of Healthy Homes complaints, and eight property violations. The agreement states that the landlord must pass a health inspection for all units that will be rented.
Tenants complained earlier this year their mail had not been delivered in nearly three months. Their new landlord has guaranteed mail service.
Additionally, the landlord must not retaliate in any way against a tenant for organizing or for reporting a maintenance issue. The full rental assistance contract with terms can be found here.
“This agreement represents the first time that the City has proactively intervened in a displacement of this kind, playing a critical role in stabilizing housing for eight tenant households – including families with children at Gladstone Elementary School, elderly people with health conditions, and people with disabilities,” Raghuveer wrote. “This agreement lays the groundwork for a more proactive, systematic approach that the City can take to fight displacement and achieve safe, accessible, and truly affordable homes for everyone in Kansas City.”
Kansas City is facing an affordable housing crisis that has led to an increase in the homeless population and increased City spending on related services such as homeless prevention, social services, utility assistance, rental assistance, and mental and other health services exacerbated by the affordable housing crisis, according to the agreement.
The City, acting through its Housing and Community Development Department, will pay up to $86,400 over two years.
The Northeast News is dedicated to reporting on housing in Northeast Kansas City. Please send tips about new development, vacant buildings, slumlords and unsafe living conditions to email@example.com.