An eviction often forces families into substandard housing owned by ‘slumlords’ who refuse to make repairs.
Landlords in Jackson County are filing hundreds of eviction requests each month, resulting in thousands of eviction orders every year. And those recorded evictions – 175,000 court filings over 17 years, according to a study by a housing policy researcher – are only a fraction of the landlord-tenant disputes that force low-income Kansas Citians out of their homes.
Reputable landlords won’t lease to tenants with evictions on their records, trapping families in a cycle of substandard housing, debt, rent nonpayment and, often, homelessness.
“Landlords can make a lot of money if they self-select into a low-income market where they have all the power,” says Tara Raghuveer, a Harvard-educated researcher who now works on housing policy for the People’s Action Institute in Chicago. “We are in a state of emergency when it comes to affordable housing in this country.”
Raghuveer, who will present her findings Wednesday at an event at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library beginning at 6:30 p.m., points to a troubling statistic in the National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s annual affordability study: There wasn’t a single county in the United States where a person working full time at the minimum wage could afford a two-bedroom apartment in 2017.
Raghuveer, a Shawnee Mission East High School graduate, returned to Kansas City in 2013 to study evictions for a university thesis.
“What I really wanted to study was the dynamics around housing in the private market,” says Raghuveer. “The existing scholarship on housing really favors public housing and project-based housing. Most of it was written in the 1980s.”
But public policy has since shifted. Most Section 8 recipients now use their housing vouchers to rent from private landlords, Raghuveer says.
As part of her research, she conducted a series of interviews with evicted tenants and so-called “slumlords.” She also hired a data scientist to help her sift through thousands upon thousands of publicly available court records, turning up some 175,000 eviction filings.
And that was just in Jackson County, Missouri.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the data we have from the courts represents only a small fraction of the total impact of evictions in the city,” Raghuveer says. “There are many more evictions that happen informally outside of the courts and with no data to represent them.”
Raghuveer found informal evictions occur even more frequently. For example, a landlord might agree to forgive any rent owed so long as the tenant moved out by a certain date. While spared an eviction judgment on his or her record, the tenant – often a single parent with children – must still find a new place to live under adverse circumstances. As KCUR has reported, evictions often disrupt learning when students are forced to change schools mid-year.
Community groups such as the Local Investment Commission (LINC) hope Raghuveer’s research can change the conversation about affordable housing in Kansas City. Right now, Raghuveer’s colleagues are partnering with local school districts to study the impact these frequent, forced moves have on student achievement.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.