Guest Commentary

Jim Wanser: Some institutions divest property in neighborhoods

As it has expanded over the years, Saint Luke’s Hospital has changed its approach to ownership of nearby residential properties.
As it has expanded over the years, Saint Luke’s Hospital has changed its approach to ownership of nearby residential properties. The Kansas City Star

Several area institutions have been rethinking their need to acquire and own residential properties. It may signal that a new model is emerging, that institutions are actively committed to improving neighborhood relationships and that we may see an end to the encroachment that has been characteristic of midtown Kansas City for the last several decades.

Institutional acquisition is the single dominant factor resulting in the loss of residential housing in midtown over the last 25 years. If you think about all the great institutions in our area, almost all have grown by purchasing residential properties and demolishing them. Sometimes it has been a few houses. But for other expansion projects, entire neighborhoods have disappeared.

Their representative would tell you that institutions serve as an anchor for the neighborhoods, that they stabilize their surrounding areas. They would point to the years when flight to the suburbs was a dominant theme and that institutional ownership of residential property protected their investment.

Fortunately, a welcome new model of institutional growth as it relates to surrounding neighborhoods has emerged. While wealthy institutions still have a huge influence on neighborhoods, some are re-evaluating their need to own residential property. Several major institutions in the area have reversed their need to simply buy more property for the future and are working to return residential property to owner occupied homes.

Kauffman Foundation: Over the last 10 years, the Kauffman Foundation had acquired five homes for institutional guests. Often the houses would sit empty for long periods between visitors. With new leadership and programmatic changes, the foundation sold three houses and gave two to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Saint Luke’s Hospital: While the hospital has a somewhat checkered history with its immediate neighborhoods, a change over recent years has created greater trust. While many residential properties were lost, a for-profit subsidiary of the Saint Luke’s Foundation has been rehabilitating and selling residences near the hospital, as well as building new residential properties. While working as a developer, its stated goal is to help maintain the area, not be long-term landlords or residential property owners.

Rockhurst University: It’s also divesting a substantial number of its residential properties, part of a trend that neighborhoods applaud. Matt Heinrich, associate vice president for facilities and technology, reports the following:

“Our discussions with our neighbors over the years have reinforced the idea that single-family home ownership, whenever possible, strengthens the neighborhood and boosts property values. We have also been exploring options for student housing that would be appealing to our students, be affordable and fit in with the character of the neighborhood. Considering these factors and that it isn’t economically viable for the university to maintain homes throughout the neighborhood, we are working to rehab our properties east of Forest Avenue and prepare many of them for sale. We are hoping that we can interest buyers who would become owners interested in occupying the houses. We already have sold one house to a family.”

These are progressive efforts to create a new model of collaboration between area institutions and their neighborhoods. We hope that midtown institutions will continue to rethink the win-lose model of buying residential properties, tearing them down at the expense of the neighborhood and building what they want. A new model that creates win-win outcomes must be based on mutual respect. We want area institutions to thrive and flourish, but we ask that they respect the residential boundaries of our neighborhoods.

Jim Wanser is liaison for external affairs of the Rockhill Homes Association.