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Tikkun-KC repairing our corner of the world one house at a time

Larry Myer stands in front of Tikkum-KC’s first rennovated house.

For 32 years, Larry Myer has renovated and managed houses and apartments in the Kansas City, Missouri urban core, witnessing neighborhoods reborn. But some areas are just too blighted to attract private investors without someone kick-starting the redevelopment. Tikkun-KC, Myer’s new 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has just completed the renovation of its first house on a block it’s tackling in such a neighborhood. 

“We’re going into neighborhoods to bring them back to life,” Myer said. “We’re looking for blocks where we can go in and make a difference.”

Myer was inspired by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s quote, “If you see what needs to be repaired and know how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you that needs repair.”    

With a mission of “Repairing our corner of the world one house at a time,” Tikkun-KC’s name stems from the Hebrew word tikkun, which means repair. It is hoped that Tikkun-KC will be an inspiration for other cities to launch similar programs. 

Tikkun-KC plans to renovate houses with a goal of bringing back blighted neighborhoods, providing deserving low-income individuals with an opportunity to become homeowners, and saving taxpayers thousands of dollars.

The nonprofit’s first project is a blighted block whose houses were on the city’s dangerous building list slated for demolition — at a cost to taxpayers of $10,000 to $12,000 each. Tikkun-KC plans to renovate six single-family houses and three trash-filled lots they’ve acquired on a block of East 27th Terrace, along with another abandoned home on the block, which they are in the process of acquiring. In addition to renovating the first house, they’ve already removed about 10,000 pounds of trash from the lots that will be transformed into either an urban farm or green space with potential for building houses at a later date. 

Johnny M. Burris, who has lived on the block for 40 years, said that Tikkun-KC is the answer to his prayers.

“It was a blessing when Larry came along,” he said.

Burris said he is happy that the houses will be filled with homeowners instead of renters, like those who occupied the houses before they became uninhabitable.

“People that buy have a tendency to take care of what they’re buying,” he said. 

Myer agrees, believing that home ownership is critical to bringing back blighted neighborhoods. Instead of overgrown yards and lots that are magnets for illegal dumping and vermin and houses slated to be torn down, the block will have homeowners in houses that add value to the neighborhood. Instead of taxpayers shouldering the burden of maintaining these lots, fighting fires caused by squatters who move in during cold weather, and paying thousands of dollars to tear down a home, the houses will be brought back to life and filled with low income homeowners who take pride in their property and become taxpayers who contribute to the city’s coffers.

Tikkun-KC is working with local nonprofits to identify potential homeowners. The mortgages initially will be seller-financed while resources work with buyers to repair their credit and prepare them for a home loan. Buyers will be required to put down the equivalent of the first month’s mortgage plus pay the first month’s mortgage before moving in. On a $25,000 house, a seven-year mortgage would be $298 a month. If a buyer cannot afford that, Tikkun-KC will work with them to extend the loan to make the house affordable.

The block selected by Tikkun-KC for its first project is one of the most blighted in the neighborhood as far as empty houses, according to Blue Valley Neighborhood Association President Dale Walker. Bringing occupants into houses makes the neighborhood safer, he said. Walker believes that the neighborhood, which once housed a workforce for nearby steel plants, will come back thanks to its convenient location off of Van Brunt. He said that Tikkun-KC’s renovation will help bring up property values for neighbors.

The homes association and Legal Aid of Western Missouri are integral to handling the abandoned and distressed properties in the neighborhood. 

Grant Reichert, staff attorney for Legal Aid of Western Missouri, said that it’s difficult to convince investors to take the risk of initiating investment in such an area for myriad reasons, including investors who are unable to borrow against the property to fund renovation. The level of deterioration, the fact that squatters have started fires, that houses have been stripped of plumbing and copper, and the dumping on the lots can be daunting. 

“Larry was different because he was seeking a place where he could make a difference. He asked for a block that was seriously blighted. It appears that he sincerely has a mission at heart,” Reichert said.

“It’s very important to get rehabilitation started on a block that it would be tough to convince other investors to come on. If you only do a house here and a house there, it’s not going to have the same sort of impact that doing a whole block will. With Larry’s expertise, he knows how to do multiple houses.” 

In addition, Reichert said, the renovations will allow the people who already live there to live with dignity.

“I think it’s a good catalyzing force. Once this block is stabilized, hopefully its starts to spread out from there.”

Joining Myer in his effort are Tikkun-KC’s board members, who are all Jewish. Each brings a different skill set to the table. They include Myer, Tom Cohen, Les Rosenfeld, Lauren Fasbinder, Rabbi Scott White and Ron Fredman. 

Tikkun-KC is seeking donations to help acquire and renovate more houses. For more information or to donate, visit Tikkun-KC.org or call 816-384-1200.