KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The biggest expense for most families is housing, something made more difficult for those out of work during COVID-19.
Soon, it will be back to business as usual, even though many people can’t make the bills.
Unemployment rates are the highest they’ve been since the Great Depression, and economists say those figures are increasing.
“People’s incomes have been zeroed out, but they’re still expected to pay all of their bills,” said Tara Raghuveer, an organizer with activist group KC Tenants.
“Some of them are donating plasma or taking out title loans, all kinds of things that just set them up for an even more precarious and uncertain financial future.”
Part of that uncertainty includes how people are handling housing costs.
Many have gotten some reprieve with halted eviction proceedings during the worst of the virus, but that won’t last forever.
“You still have to pay, but we just can’t take any court action or shutoff action against you,” said Edwin Loundes, executive director of the Kansas City Missouri Housing Authority. “But when this is over, those bills will come due.”
He wants tenants to know eviction is the last possible recourse.
“We’re only going to do the eviction process if it is someone that just absolutely refuses to pay. Other than that, we’re going in and we’re going to work with that family to try to maintain their housing, get back on track,” Loundes said.
Raghuveer isn’t quite so optimistic.
“I think we’re about to face an absolute onslaught of evictions if we do not take action now, if there’s no public policy that accounts for the fact that people simply can’t pay,” Raghuveer said.
FOX4 asked Loundes if there is a looming eviction crisis.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a rush to the courthouse based on rent,” he said. “In the private area, I think those landlords are thinking the same thing, (which) is it’s better to keep that family here in their housing and find a way to pay the difference over time than evict that family and all the costs that go with that.”
KC Tenants disagrees.
Raghuveer said some residents have received phone calls from the Jackson County Circuit Courts about virtual landlord-tenant cases. One attorney cited dozens of those cases on the docket for April 30.
“Hearings are already started to be scheduled by phone. So there are some people in the state of Missouri who, in the next couple of weeks, may be evicted from their home over a phone call,” Raghuveer said.
“We think that is an abomination, and frankly it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a violation of everything that we hold dear about what is supposed to be going on in a system of justice.”
“No one wants an eviction,” private landlord Stacey Johnson-Cosby said. ” That’s the last thing that we’re looking at. We always try to find a way to work out some way that a family can stay in place, but it involves a lot of communication.”
Raghuveer feels the compassion of a few landlords can’t cover the concerns faced by many.
“That’s not a reality, and even if there are some individual landlords who are cutting their tenants some slack right now, that’s not a public policy,” she said. “The goodwill of individual landlords is not the same as public policy that actually protects everyone.”
Johnson-Cosby also formed the KC Regional Housing Authority, a coalition of landlords and property owners. She argues they, too, have bills to pay.
“Those costs for those properties are ongoing,” she said. “You always have your utilities, your insurance and your property maintenance.”
She encourages residents to check on their stimulus payments and file for unemployment.
“There’s help out there,” Johnson-Cosby said. “We just need the tenants and those landlords to reach out, ask questions and pursue some of the resources that are out there to help you and help us stabilize this housing market.”
KC Tenants said it’s not enough.
The group is calling on Gov. Mike Parson to suspend all rent and mortgage payments, as well as ban evictions statewide. KC Tenants’ proposed policy also calls for a ban on utility shutoffs and an expansion of services for people who are already homeless.
“The weight of that is not only going to fall on tenant shoulders, it’s going to fall on the shoulders of property owners and landlords,” Raghuveer said. “Frankly it’s going to fall on all of our shoulders as the economy takes that much longer to recover from this kind of devastation.”
If you are struggling to pay for housing, click the link for resources provided by the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance.