The Northland’s first tenants union says Parvin Estates is a ‘breeding grounds’ for pests
The Parvin Estates tenant union is the first of its kind in Kansas City's Northland. Residents say that rents are being raised by 35% after years of neglect, including broken air conditioning and infestations of rodents and insects.
More than 60 residents at the Parvin Estates Apartments in Kansas City’s Northland have formed a tenant union to push against spiking rents and years of ignored complaints about broken air conditioning, pest infestations and other forms of neglect.
Bridget Hughes, who's lived at Parvin since 2018, and her neighbor, Mellanie Gray, a resident since 2020, are two of the founding members of the tenants union.
They say that, starting at the beginning of this year, some residents received notice of price increases as high as 35%.
Gray says that the property company, south Kansas City-based Yarco Property Management, has consistently failed to maintain livable conditions, both on Parvin’s public grounds and inside its 300 apartments.
“For the first two years, we slept in our living room during the summer all piled up on an air mattress because it was just too unbearable to sleep upstairs in our bedrooms,” Gray said of the outdated air conditioning units.
Gray says the AC units don’t have enough capacity to push air to the upstairs bedrooms, so residents had to purchase their own window units or find cooling solutions like placing reflective material on the windows.
It's gotten to the point, Gray says, where her two daughters refuse to stay at home during the summer and instead stay with their grandparents. “It gets so hot that it melts my oldest daughter's paint and crayons,” she said.
Gray felt that forming a union was the only option that residents had. Their efforts are supported by KC Tenants, the citywide housing advocacy organization responsible for establishing Kansas City’s first Bill of Rights for renters.
KC Tenants says this is the first union it’s organized in the Northland.
“We started organizing about six weeks ago and we’ve held about 12 canvassing drives since trying to get residents to join the union,” said Brunson-Gray.
The union sent a list of demands to Yarco vice president of management operations, Karen Fernandez: reverse the latest rent increase, fix ongoing plumbing and air conditioning problems, and exterminate pests.
The union also demanded that Yarco replace the Parvin Estates community manager Theresa Brents by August 31, for what they say is a culture of “tenants being treated as a paycheck rather than as people.”
Fernandez responded to the tenant union's letter on Wednesday, offering to meet with union representatives next month: "Yarco is committed to help create and maintain quality affordable housing for our residents. We understand the importance of providing a safe place to call home. We (Yarco) are fully committed to listening to your concerns and working together to develop viable solutions."
According to its website, Yarco Property Management has a portfolio of over 300 properties across eight states. That includes 14 residential properties in Kansas City, and several more around the metro area.
KCUR reached out to Yarco Property Management multiple times for comment, but they have yet to respond. Brents also declined to comment for this article.
'Dignity and respect'
Walking through the public areas of Parvin Estates, the lack of upkeep is stark. In plain sight were multiple electrical cabinets open to the elements with exposed wiring, and defunct children’s playgrounds with storm debris strewn about.
And as temperatures reach 100 degrees outside, the swimming pool is filled with green algae-laden water — a far cry from the image of the bright blue, clean pool on the apartment’s website.
Inside some apartments, Gray says, are sagging floors, leaking pipes, black mold and roach and rodent infestations.
According to Gray and other tenants KCUR spoke to, the rodent and insect infestations are the result of people moving out of apartments, which are then left vacant by management and become “breeding grounds for all sorts of pests.”
“Some of them have been empty for years, and when maintenance is not tended to in those buildings, the pests and rodents create their home in the units. So, it’s spread from the empty units all the way down,” says Hughes. “The particular cul-de-sac that I'm in, every single unit that is there is now completely infested with roaches.”
Hughes says that she’s put in upwards of two dozen maintenance calls over the past three years, to no avail.
“The leak that they left unattended created a hole down in my basement and in my vents, which is where the black mold started,” says Hughes.
Even after the health department came to her home last year, Hughes says nothing has been done. Now, she says her children are developing health issues from living in such poor conditions.
“I'm in and out of the ER dealing with their asthma,” Hughes says. “All of this has been reported to management multiple times and their statement to me, every time I bring up any of these issues, is maybe I should just consider moving. Yarco needs to treat its tenants with dignity and respect.”
A maintenance worker for Yarco Property Management at Parvin Estates, who spoke to KCUR on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said that tenants’ complaints are valid.
“I’ve seen a lot of mistakes,” the worker said. “This is an older property and the issues that are coming up are a result of things breaking down. It's a very sensitive issue. But I think that something has to be said and something has to be done to fix the problems here.”
KC Tenants organizer Justin Stein has been directly involved in the Parvin Estates union efforts. He says what Yarco Properties is doing to its residents is unacceptable.
“They (Yarco) receive millions of dollars in subsidies for its ownership and management of low income housing, where people's rent varies based upon the size of the family, but also based on income,” Stein says. “But what they’ve done after receiving this money from the federal government is turn around and raise rents on people. That's why tenants there (Parvin Estates) are organizing.”
According to records from the Clay County Assessor, Parvin Estates is owned by Shawmet Homes Inc., a tax-exempt housing nonprofit. The organization's 2022 audit showed that it received approximately $3.6 million in federal low-income housing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Parvin residents say their problems come down to an overall lack of respect for the residents.
“Multiple times I've witnessed discrimination against my immigrant neighbors because of the language barrier," Hughes says.
To drive resident engagement, the Parvin Estates tenants union is holding a free community barbecue for all residents on Sunday, July 30 at Hidden Valley Park.
“We are going to have activities for the kids, water balloons, water guns," Gray says. "We need people to show up and show out for this community to break that feeling of being forgotten."
The Parvin Estates tenant union gave Yarco Property Management a deadline of July 31 to come to the negotiating table.
“There are multiple ways we can protest to put a little bit more fire under Yarco’s feet in order to get them to understand the necessity that time is of the essence on their response,” Gray says.