In the 14 years since KBK Enterprises was founded, they’ve renovated thousands of public housing units across the county, and along the way, they’ve managed to also change communities, as well as lives, for the good.

Keith B. Key knows more than a little about life in public housing. The owner of KBK Enterprises wasn’t always a successful business man who’s done well enough to make a $1 million contribution to his alma mater Ohio State University. Key started life in Garfield Commons, a tough public housing complex in Pittsburgh, PA.

He was one of the lucky youth that found a way out – a scholarship to play football. Key took full advantage of the scholarship, earning a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Economics and catapulting his degree into a career in banking, then real estate development.

But Key isn’t one of those guys who did well and forgot where he came from. He remembers the impact a little help can have, the difference and opportunity can make, and how great it feels to simply be listened to and heard. Certainly that’s why KBK Enterprise developments are different – from beginning through completion, and on. It’s because Key is a developer with a social conscious.

Wichita’s renovation project is a big one in terms of housing projects, but KBK has handled equally large projects in Columbus OH, Pittsburgh, PA, and New Orleans, LA. He’s taken them all on with an approach we can already see his team applying in the early stages of the Wichita project. First, he communicates and makes connections. Yes, he connects with potential contractors, folks with money, and the government officials who write the checks, but in Wichita, he’s also reaching out to local non-profits, minority contractors and business-owners and, most importantly, to the housing authority residents.

Key and his team have already held meetings with residents, even though the first panel of dry wall won’t be torn down on any of the units until well into 2019. The meetings include two-way conversation. The tenants obviously have questions about what to expect, and Key and his team want to hear about improvements and changes residents want to see made.

The KBK team plans to meet monthly with the residents, keeping them up to date on what’s going on. Key even suggested a regular newsletter to keep them up to date on all of the projects, not just their location.

The KBK team also met with local non-profits to see how they might work together to provide wrap around services to the housing residents. He’s also met with minority contractors. The company has a reputation of exceeding goals for use of minorities on projects.

In all of their Pittsburg projects, KBK used 40 to 50% Minority/Women Business Enterprise participation in a town that only has a 12% minority population. In New Orleans, his projects had 50% and up to 60% MWBE participation.

KBK also actively participates in the Federal Section 3 Business Program. This is a program under the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that requires recipients of certain HUD financial assistance, to the greatest extent possible, to provide job training, employment and contract opportunities to low or very low income residents in connection with projects and activities in their neighborhoods.

This is another area where KBK flourishes. In Pittsburg, they consistently set Section 3 employee hiring records, with 54 and 67 residents from the neighborhood hired on two projects. In New Orleans, KBK hired an astounding 164 employees from the neighborhoods, 90% of whom were former felons.

Working closely with residents and community organizations, Key says he often finds others issues that need to be addressed that often fall outside of the company’s role as a developer. That’s where his KBK Foundation steps in.

“Solving some of these problems doesn’t make sense under the development deal, so we do it under the foundation,” said Key

Here are just a few example of KBK Foundation giving in conjunction with their development projects. The foundation:

•Contributed $50K towards the purchase of washers and dryers for residents of one project so that everyone would have one in their unit.

•Funded a program to teach community youth about aviation.

•Sponsors summer festival at all KBK developments.

•Purchased a computer for every unit in one project.

•Provides academic scholarships to residents of KBK owned and managed properties.

When Key heard about a 50% truancy problem at high schools serving one of the developments he was renovating, he offered to pay $250 to every student from the development who showed up at school every day for a year. Key said he received a lot of flak for offering to pay students for just going to school.

“I figured if you show up, you have a chance to learn,” said Key. “If you don’t show up, you definitely won’t learn.”

His experiment worked. At the end of the year, truancy was down from 50% to 10%.

Although KBK Enterprises will establish a Wichita office, they’ll remain based in Ohio throughout this project. While Key himself will only be in and out of Wichita, certainly the social conscious of this developer will shine bright in Wichita as well.

Of course, we’ll keep you posted.

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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