Government & Politics

Researcher who quantified KC evictions hopes to establish tenant power organization

The thousands of Kansas City evictions that happen every single year hold steady no matter what the economy is doing
The thousands of Kansas City evictions that happen every single year hold steady no matter what the economy is doing The Kansas City Star

It’s a staggering statistic: every year in Jackson County landlords go to court to file evictions against about 9,000 families.

Evicted families risk losing their homes and, with them, their housing stability. Being removed from a house or apartment can make finding a future rental home even more difficult.

The data, the result of a long-term research study by Tara Raghuveer, underpins the Harvard grad’s latest project: building a tenants’ organization and mobilizing Kansas City’s renters to take policy-making into their own hands.

“Poor people and communities of color have not yet been priced out of places like Kansas City,” says a statement announcing the effort. “However, if we fail to imagine and implement systemic reforms, they will be.”

Raghuveer said what has become clear to her is that “we know enough about what the problem looks like to know that we have to do something.”

The release says over the course of a year and a half the Kansas City Eviction Project has analyzed 18 years of housing data. It has studied evictions’ impact on students who frequently must switch schools, met with the mayor and council members, hosted town halls and built a coalition of organizations interested in housing policy.

“Now, it’s time to invest in organization,” it says.

Forty-six percent of the city’s population lives in rental housing, according to census data. City research shows more than 23,000 Kansas City tenants have “one or more severe housing conditions,” such as lack of complete kitchens, inadequate plumbing and serious overcrowding. In some low-income neighborhoods, as many as 42 percent of renters said they had unresolved maintenance issues.

This year, advocates plan to push housing as a central issue in the mayoral and city council election and begin work creating a “tenant power” organization “led by tenants, poor people, workers and a multiracial base in Kansas City.” To do that successfully will take a $200,000 campaign, a core team of 15 leaders, a base of 50 organizers, 1,000 community members and volunteers, a housing agenda, candidate engagement, forums, visibility and relationships with elected officials.

The release notes the housing crisis isn’t new, “but it is becoming more acute.”

Raghuveer said that $200,000 would come from a mix of institutional donors and individuals with whom the project team has been building relationships.

Affordable housing and tax incentives for development are already expected to be big topics in the 2019 mayoral race. Councilman Quinton Lucas, who represents the 3rd District at-large and is running for mayor, has been leading the effort to establish the city’s first affordable housing policy.

The City Council Housing Committee, which Lucas chairs, is expected to take up its work on affordable housing once again Wednesday.

Lucas said he thought there was room for tenants to have a stronger political voice, noting business organizations already represent developers, landlords, realtors and home builders.

“Even our community meetings are largely, disproportionately homeowners and people who have been established in neighborhoods for a while,” not renters, Lucas said.