Kansas City housing activists fear ‘eviction disaster’ as federal moratorium ends

·7 min read

The federal eviction moratorium expired Saturday, and tenants rights activists fear hundreds of Kansas Citians could soon lose their homes.

Now that the moratorium is lifted, 1,091 evictions across Jackson County are able to move forward, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas recently wrote on Twitter.

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The moratorium was initially put in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 by keeping people in their homes. Now, as Missouri becomes a hotspot for the delta variant, people are at risk of losing their homes — places they need to quarantine, isolate and recover if they are exposed to the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control moratorium on evictions expired July 31. President Joe Biden’s administration said Thursday it would allow the ban, in place since September 2020, to expire.

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” Karine Jean-Pierre, White House deputy press secretary, said in a press conference Thursday.

The administrations said its hands were tied, however.

At the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled that the CDC exceeded its authority when it issued the nationwide eviction ban. The court allowed the moratorium to run until the end of July to allow for more distribution of rental assistance. The ruling, with a concurring opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, says that congressional authorization would be needed for an extension.

“We will continue an all-of-government effort to keep Americans safe and housed through the swift dispersal of emergency rental assistance to states and cities, which has been incredibly important to the American people,” Jean-Pierre said.

In a statement Friday, Biden called on state and local governments to distribute the rental assistance as quickly as possible to prevent evictions.

Roughly 3.6 million people across the country said they would face eviction over the coming two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey completed July 5. And 7.4 million households were behind on their rent, according to the survey.

The tenant movement has known since the Supreme Court decision that the moratorium would not be extended, said KC Tenants director Tara Raghuveer. More unexpected, she said, is the White House calling on Congress to extend the moratorium through a congressional vote.

“Cynically, our take is that the administration is doing this in an attempt to save face in the reality where rental assistance has been completely botched across the country and especially in states like ours in Missouri, where the people who need it the most aren’t getting it,” Raghuveer said. “And meanwhile, this moratorium is expiring, and there’s going to be a massive wave of evictions.”

Friday evening, lawmakers failed in an attempt to pass legislation to extend the deadline.

Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush slept outside the U.S. Capitol building Friday night, calling on her colleagues to extend the moratorium.

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There were 4,164 eviction cases filed in Jackson County from from September to June.

Of the 2,390 eviction cases filed in Jackson County court in the first half of this year, there were 656 writs for housing evictions — the legal process that activates an eviction — issued by the Civil Records Department and 294 actual evictions executed, according to county data.

In some situations, the tenant and landlord come to an agreement outside of court, the tenants may move out early or the eviction can be canceled. The court does not track the outcome or judgment of a case.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby, president of the landlord group KC Regional Housing Alliance, said the end of the moratorium means “we’re getting back to normal” as far as legal remedies when rent isn’t paid. She added, however, that most property owners don’t want to evict tenants as it’s easier to keep them in place.

Local government has taken steps as a salve for evictions, though nothing has been able to fully remedy what activists see a major problem.

Last spring, Jackson County Circuit Court presiding Judge David Bryn — who retired this month — issued a month-long eviction moratorium. When it wasn’t reinstated, tenants activists protested outside the courthouse and outside some judges’ homes.

In January — days after two deputies with the county’s civil process unit shot a man during a Blue Springs eviction — Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs halted the posting of eviction notices, hearings and performances for two weeks.

And 90-day program this year housed a few hundred people in Kansas City hotels as part of a temporary city housing initiative. The city has also launched a program to convert existing buildings into homes for houseless Kansas Citians as well as a tiny homes initiative.

Raghuveer said she doesn’t see a way of avoiding the “eviction disaster that’s coming our way,” the result of the lack of action on a national level. Now, people are facing eviction or thousands of dollars in rental debt.

“In a city like Kansas City that’s already been experiencing a surge of homelessness in the last couple of years,” she said, “that problem’s only gonna get worse.”

Raghuveer said they want local officials to take steps toward the proposed People’s Housing Trust Fund. Nationally, a coalition of tenant organizations are working towards a National Tenants’ Bill of Rights.

Johnson-Cosby encouraged people to apply to the state’s rental assistance program to get help.

“We need to do whatever we can to spread the word that there are millions of dollars out there … people don’t have to panic,” Johnson-Cosby said. “All they have to do is apply and let their landlord know, ‘Hey, I’m making an application and I’m trying.’ And for most landlords that’s enough to hear that they’re trying and we know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

For those in Kansas City at risk of losing housing, here’s what you need to know.

Resources

Landlords can only evict tenants as allowed by state law, meaning they must have a court order. Unjust and unlawful evictions aren’t allowed, though tenants’ rights group have noted those continue to happen.

If a tenant receives an eviction notice, they should seek an attorney, Chiala said.

“When a tenant has an attorney, it’s highly likely that eviction will be stopped,” Chiala said. “Most of those cases end in a settlement agreement that gets that eviction dismissed against the tenant and keeps the tenant housed.”

If a tenant doesn’t appear in court, they often automatically lose their case.

Three organizations provide legal assistance to tenants: Legal Aid of Western Missouri, the Heartland Center and the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

When a tenant gets behind on rent, their landlord can sue at any time, Chiala said. They should immediately apply for rental assistance and then show the landlord.

Legal Aid of Western Missouri

  • 4001 Blue Parkway, Suite 300 Kansas City, MO 64130

  • Phone: 816-474-6750

  • Website: www.lawmo.org

Heartland Center for Jobs & Freedom

  • 4033 Central Kansas City, MO 64111

  • 816-278-1344

  • Website: www.jobsandfreedom.org

UMKC School of Law Tenant Assistance Initiative

  • 816-343-8709

The Missouri Bar Legal Resources Assistance

  • Phone: 573-636-3635

  • Website: www.missourilawyershelp.org

Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Foundation Military Matters Program — legal assistance for qualifying veterans and service members

  • Website: www.militarymatterskc.org

Rental assistance

If you are in need of rental assistance, here are a few places to go:

McClatchy DC Bureau’s Bryan Lowry and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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