Addressing housing, a healthy move for Kansas City

There are 42 evictions filed per business day in Jackson County, and more occur outside of the court system with no data to represent them. Photo is courtesy of Nicholas Valdes

Affordable housing is a neglected issue in Kansas City, largely unaddressed by policy and not yet a breakthrough topic in our public discourse. Affordable housing hasn’t garnered the civic interest or needed capital (public or private) of a new airport, light rail, convention hotel, sports complex, or any number of high-profile development projects. But it should — and we should act urgently to make sure it does. Housing must become a centerpiece of Kansas City’s efforts to eliminate barriers and promote quality health for all Kansas Citians.

The hard, indisputable fact is that rental housing in the Kansas City area is out of reach for too many. Rent and utilities for a two-bedroom apartment in Kansas City is $946. A person would have to earn over $18.19 an hour to cover those costs.

One in seven in our community spend over 50 percent of their income on housing, which by federal standards, makes them “extremely cost-burdened.” There are 42 evictions filed per business day in Jackson County, and more occur outside of the court system with no data to represent them.

Kansas City’s is a familiar tale, one shared by other American cities. The city is marked by a long history of segregationist real estate practices, the ramifications of which are still felt today. Kansas City neighborhoods have also faced rapid change in recent years. Development has instigated displacement and, without a preventative housing strategy in place, the rental market has tightened.

Displacement associated with housing insecurity is more than a forced move. It impacts physical and mental health, access to schools and transportation, people’s ability to sustain employment, and contributes to poor health outcomes including depression, stress and adverse impacts on adults and children. As Matthew Desmond writes in his seminal study of eviction in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eviction is both a cause and a condition of poverty.

Health suffers when people face housing insecurity. Housing insecurity and forced moves take people away from health care providers. Poor housing conditions can lead to asthma and lead poisoning. It should not come as a surprise that the Kansas City zip codes with the lowest health expectancies are the same zip codes with high concentrations of poor people, people of color, and renters. Recent new research shows these are the same neighborhoods with the highest rates for evictions.

For these reasons and more, the Health Care Foundation’s decision to include housing in its recently adopted two-year public policy agenda is significant. Poor housing and poor health are related matters. We are encouraged by the recent momentum in Kansas City related to issues like chronic youth homelessness, evictions, interior rental inspections, and preservation of Kansas City’s housing stock.

It’s time for Kansas City to pursue a comprehensive housing justice agenda. It would be a healthy move for our city.

The KC Eviction Project has compiled 18 years’ worth of data on evictions in Kansas City. Visit the website to see what the team is doing to address housing in Kansas City.

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Health Forward supports exploring policies that will enhance access to safe, affordable and healthy housing. This topic is a Tier 2 priority in our 2018-2019 policy agenda. Read more here.

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006