Kansas City Missouri’s Fact Sheet

Letter to the Kansas City Missouri City Council

City Council Members,

I can’t be at your meeting today, but I did want to share this with you.  As I looked at the excel fact sheet provided online there were several things that really concerned me, not as a leader of a real estate investor group, not as a past landlord in Kansas City Missouri, but as a concerned citizen.
Fact 1:  Only 50% of the population of KC is in rentals.  The Health Department wants to help 100% of the families, especially children. So you are going to create an ordinance to target only 50% of them? 
Maybe we have a program, like the Certificate of Occupancy that allows an inspection of a property to obtain a Certificate to let anyone occupy a home, not just renters, but owner occupants.  When renovations are made, let allow city codes inspectors to inspect and possibly revoke that CO if the home does not meet all codes – I think the city already does these things.  Let us further allow rental tenants the opportunity to send complaints the codes department and invite the codes inspectors into their home to cite violations, request repairs and if life threatening, revoke the CO or otherwise demand the owner make the repairs. I would think every landlord in the city could get behind this.
Fact 2:  The fact sheet stated that the Health Department is getting a lot more complaints, but they are not dealing with the complaints due to a LACK OF ENFORCEMENT.  So if the current laws and regulations, IE the rental registration or the city codes department, don’t work, a new registration and new department that by the numbers you were talking about in the meeting last Friday would give you an underfunded program in the Health Department how will this help?  Will this program be in addition to the current underfunded rental and vacant property registration program and the current city codes department that needs more money and more staff or are you going to do away with the old registration program and are taking some of the inspections from the city codes department?
Fact 3:  The fact sheet states that the Health Department is OPTIMISTIC that they can help all residents live in healthy homes.  Optimistic?  Are there no studies to show that registering rental properties inspecting them will improve the 50 to 100 year old housing stock.  Chuck Schmitz worked with a student at UMKC to conduct his own unofficial study and found that there was not much change with inspections – the good guys will continue to be good guys and the Slumlords just will not participate.  Remember, rules and regulations keep honest people honest, but dishonest people don’t care.  We found a 2003 study that showed, that with programs like this, that the houses affected did have more complaints and saw more repairs, that the costs to the landlords to deal with the program increased rents and reduced affordable housing . . and again by the cities own numbers this only affects 50% of the lived in properties in the city, not the 50% that are owner occupied or the other homes that are vacant, abandon and boarded up.
The only items quoted when we asked about this at a meeting last week, was that the permitting system somehow would get the violations repaired faster as it would somehow cut off the income to the owner?
Last Friday, the permitting and inspections of  Restaurants and Hotels was cited as how this would work.  But while violations at a dining establishment and a hotel, could shut them down and only a very few of them in the city, I don’t know how the same program on 65,000 rental properties would be able to shut anyone down.  And you also stated you right now today that if there was a serious threat to life that the Health Department could remove the Tenant, and I contend that is the only way you will get anywhere with the Slumlord and if he can’t rent his dump, he will then, probably abandon the home to foreclosure or taxes and NOT spend $30,000 to $50,000 to fix up a home that is only worth $30,000 to $50,000 to begin with.
Fact 4:  The fact sheet states, this will improve the condition of the housing stock in Kansas City.  Again I ask how.  I would be willing to bet that in the older neighborhoods that a good 1/4 to 1/3 of the 1920 and 1930 era homes are vacant, boarded up, abandoned and need to be torn down, this ordinance would do nothing about these.  The facts quoted would put 50% of the over all homes in the city as being owner occupied, this ordinance would do nothing to help with these homes.
So if the goal is to help 100% of the citizens live in safe and healthy homes and to improve 100% of the housing stock in our city, how is an ordinance like the Healthy Homes going to reach those goals when it targets only 50% of the population  (much of which is in multi family, not single family scattered housing) and when a guesstimate of 75% of the housing stock is owner occupied, vacant, boarded or owned by the City or County?
I also know that out of all the landlords, you already have about 95% who want to do a good job, who want to offer quality housing so they can attract qualified renters to pay rent every month.  The slumlord, on the other hand, has deplorable housing.  But also consider that there are people out there who have been evicted multiple times, do not have the income to rent and maintain a household on their own, or for other reasons, a the quality 95% of landlords would not rent to this person . . where do you want this person to live?  In subsidized housing?  I understand that fully 1/2 of the rental stock in KC is already subsidized and again, they will not rent to unqualified tenants.
Where do the un rentable people go – sad to say, but the slumlord does provide housing to people who have nowhere else to go, who are too proud to move into a friend or family members home or have already worn out their welcome.  They have to live somewhere and they choose the dump of a house over living under the bridge.

I will end with a story my husband, a former section 8 inspector shared with me.  This is a single incident, but he had others similar.  He entered a home to inspect it to make sure it was up to section 8 standards.  If it failed, the landlord would have to fix things to keep the tenants rent coming in.  Nice little old lady tenant.  He did his inspection, Nice little old lady and three HUGE dudes met him at the door before he left.  Their Question – did we pass?  As the little old lady ask this, she smashed a roach on the wall and said ” We don’t have any roaches here”, the big dudes, well until they knew the dump was going to pass inspection, they were not going to allow him to leave.  The house in no way was fit to live in, but they did not want the landlord coming in and the section 8 rental payments stopping because that would mean they would no longer have a place to live.

Let’s work to find other solutions to save the children and to improve the housing stock – what did you all do in Hyde Park?  It seemed to work.  Revitalization projects with public and private investment seem to me something that would work very well.
So please, let’s table this ordinance and sit down and work out some kind of plan to revitalize the areas and the housing stock will take care of itself.  Bring jobs, better schools, reduce crime, bring grocery stores, after school. programs, parks to the urban core.  But just focusing on the housing stock and regulating the landlords is not going to do it.

Your Partner in Success,

Kim Tucker