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Kansas City Sees A Rise In Complaints About Renting Conditions As The Pandemic Keeps People At Home

Kansas City Health Department file photo
The Kansas City Health Department issued a notice to vacate after finding multiple violations at an apartment complex.

Voters approved the program in 2018 — and reported problems like mold and electrical issue have soared.

The number of complaints about rental housing conditions in Kansas City, Missouri, has doubled, putting it at the highest point since a city program created to solve problems was created two years ago.

Data from the Kansas City Health Department shows 280 people filed complaints with the Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program last month. Last year saw 137 complaints in July.

Inspectors handle everything from reports of wastewater to mold, pests and electrical issues. The program was created in 2018 after a citywide vote that gave health officials the authority to addresshealth and safety problems in rental properties.

Lora McDonald, the executive director of the social justice organization More2, called the increase in filed complaints “startling.” More2 helped push for the program’s creation.

“I think it's a good thing that people know that the hotline exists and are complaining,” McDonald said.

The increase in complaints has put more pressure on health department staff, according to Naser Jouhari, environmental health services division manager. He attributes the rise in reports to a few factors, including the pandemic.

“We are receiving more details [in the complaints], believe it or not,” Jouhari said. “I mean, people are staying home more, just spending more hours at home and these properties are being used.”

Jouhari also said part of the increase is due to two apartment complexes — Harvard Court and Gabriel Towers — that received a number of complaints. Tenants at Gabriel Towers raised concerns about a lack of air conditioning, according to KSHB.

At Harvard Court, renters reported pest infestations, mold and the smell of a decomposing body that wasn’t discovered until weeks after people first complained to managers, according to KMBC. Jouhari said he went on-site to speak with tenants at both locations.

“It seems like there's a trust issue,” Jouhari said. “And then, once they see that actually the health department is making a difference and forcing management to correct these violations or deficiencies, they started filing complaints.”

An analysis of calls to 311, the city’s central service request number, by the nonprofit Local Investment Commission shows more callers live in the third and fifth council districts.

“It's the older part of the city. It has the older housing stock,” said Brent Schondelmeyer, the Local Investment Commission deputy director. “...It has a level of disinvestment.”

Schondelmeyer said he sees the pandemic accelerating the conversation about access to affordable and safe living.

“In many ways, you're paying 30, 35, 40 percent of your income,” Schondelmeyer said. “And if you aren't getting your part of what is a safe habitable space, then, you know, something really needs to be done.”

You can file a complaint with the Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program at 816-513-6347.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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