KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Three Kansas City neighborhoods and the nonprofit Community Builders of Kansas City are taking a battle with an out-of-town real estate fund to court.
The Indian Mound, Lykins and Town Fork Creek Neighborhood Associations and CBKC are working with Legal Aid of Western Missouri and Neighborhood Legal Support of Kansas City are working together in the effort to get several abandoned properties in states of disrepair cleaned up or turn the properties over to someone else.
Whitestone Real Estate Fund is at the center of the claims, which involves homes in the neighborhood around E. 49th Street and Bellefontaine Avenue.
Earlier this month, Alissia Canady, deputy executive director of Neighborhood Legal Support of Kansas City, attended a press conference where community members in the neighborhood spoke up.
“They tout this portfolio as providing quality, affordable rental housing,” Canady said during the event. “Do you see quality affordable housing behind us? It’s desolate, blighted and in despair. It’s not safe for our community. It’s not safe for our children.”
Canaday compared the the neighborhood in July 2023 to when Whitestone first acquired the property.
“When it was acquired by Whitestone in their investment fund and 2022 over 60 units are occupied today, look at it is desolate, it’s uninhabitable,” Canady said,
In an interview with KSHB 41 anchor Dia Wall, former resident Monique Litchman described the neighborhood’s expectations.
“People deserve running water and doors that lock and no mice and no bugs,” Litchman said.
Litchman had signed a lease at the home despite those expectations not being met.
“I had no other options,” Litchman said.
Jimmy Fitzner, president of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association, describes the lawsuit against Whitestone as being proactive.
“We’re not on defense anymore,” Fitzner said. “We’re tired. Of being upset about this. We’re on offense now.”
Among neighborhood leaders, Fitzner is not alone.
“We take pride in our community,” Lisa Raye, president of the Town Creek Neighborhood Association said. “Most of our neighbors are upgrading their homes and everything and they’re mostly retired so they’re always out so for them they have to ride by and see this is kind of appalling.”
Diana Graham serves as president of the Lykins Neighborhood Association. Graham says public awareness of the issue is important.
“Lykins has been fighting really hard and working really hard for the last three or four years to get rid of blighted housing then we have someone like Whitestone come in and buy up properties and make us ashamed,” Lykins said.
One petition, brought by Community Builders, cites outstanding real estate taxes, broken and missing windows, water and fire damage, trash, and public access as a nuisance and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of the public. It’s one of four petitions filed in May 2023.
“They’ve had those notices. They’ve had time to act,” Canaday said. “They’ve had time to be responsive and abate the nuisances and code violations on these properties and they’ve failed to do so.”
Community Builders of Kansas City president and CEO Emmet Pierson, Jr. says he’s aware the role property owners like Whitestone can play in Kansas City.
“In the urban core of Kansas City or the under-served community of Kansas City, there are a lot of bad actors of absentee landlords, out of town developers,” Pierson said. “It’s personal to me. And it’s also present organization. So, you know, as we’re trying to bring additional redevelopment activities to the corridor to the east side. We cannot afford to have actors like this to be next door to us.”
When asked why it’s important to share her experience, Litchman has a simple response.
“I don’t want anybody’s son or daughter to ever have to go through what I went through,” Litchman said. “Everybody matters. They’re important and they deserve to have livable living conditions.”
Representatives from the Whitestone Real Estate Fund have not replied to multiple calls from KSHB 41. This story will be updated if they provide a response.