Government & Politics

Big win for Healthy Homes shows broad concern about KC rental problems, advocates say

Broad voter support for Kansas City’s Healthy Homes ballot proposal (Question 1) shows that concern about conditions in rental housing extends well beyond low-income communities, tenant advocates said Wednesday.

The measure, which authorizes the health department to respond to tenant complaints and fine landlords, ran strongly on both sides of the Missouri River. It won 58 percent of the vote in the suburbs and exurbs of Clay and Platte counties, and nearly 56 percent in the Kansas City portions of Jackson County.

“I think the results show that the issue of Healthy Rental Housing is not just an Urban Core issue but an issue that affects renters everywhere,” Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner said in a text message.

Wagner, a candidate for mayor, campaigned for the ballot question after he sponsored a similar proposal last year that stalled in the City Council’s housing committee.

“The results tell us that people in Kansas City know there are housing needs,” said Lora McDonald, executive director of the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2), which organized the campaign for Question 1.

The ordinance, effective on Sept. 2, will create a team of health inspectors financed by a $20 per unit annual fee from landlords. Problems that go uncorrected after an initial inspection will trigger a $150 fee. Subsequent inspections will cost $100.

Dr. Rex Archer, the health department director, said the inspection system will ramp up gradually as revenue from annual rental permit fees, due beginning Jan. 1, starts to come in. Archer said he anticipates hiring four new inspectors in October and four more in January.

The permit revenue will also go toward relocation costs for tenants who need to be removed from unhealthy conditions.

“We’re not helping ourselves if we move a family from a bad apartment to the street,” Archer said.

In addition to investigating complaints, inspectors will be authorized to make random, unannounced visits to rental properties. A newly drafted Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Report lists 50 items they could be looking at, including evidence of pests, mold, standing water, broken toilets, heating that falls below 65 degrees in the winter and hazardous electrical wiring.

The new ordinance also calls for formation of an advisory board, patterned after the health department’s nine-member Food Protection Advisory Board, composed of landlords, tenants, city officials and other stakeholders. Members will be appointed by Mayor Sly James.

Archer said he is looking for board members to offer guidance and suggest changes or modifications in the fledgling inspection program.

“I’ve never launched a new program, especially one of this size, that doesn’t have to be tweaked to make it better,” he said.

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