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Rents in Kansas City and Missouri are rising faster than almost anywhere else in the U.S.

A row of wood-frame, multi-story houses line a neighborhood street. Large trees can be seen around the edges of the photo.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Wood-frame homes in Santa Fe Place line Lockridge Street in the historic Kansas City neighborhood.

Housing in the Kansas City area, and in Missouri overall, is quickly becoming unaffordable. The city and state are seeing some of the fastest rent increases in the country, and local housing experts and advocates say Kansas City needs to do more to protect residents.

Rents rose faster in Missouri over the last year than any other state in the U.S., according to recent data from Rent.com.

Statewide, Missouri saw a more than 13% increase in rent prices, to a median cost of $1,209. And among large cities, Kansas City saw the seventh-largest median rent hike — increasing 7% from last year to a median price of $1,644.

And St. Louis fared even worse — with a year-over-year change of 17.7%, raising rents to a median of $1,806.

Tara Raghuveer, director of citywide union KC Tenants, said that unlike other costs determined by inflation — like groceries, gas and cars — rent hikes tend to endure.

“It's getting harder to be a tenant with every passing year,” Raghuveer said. “And that has a lot of implications for our city. When tenants get priced out of a place like New York City or Chicago, they tend to come to places like Kansas City. What happens when people get priced out of Kansas City? Where do they go?”

Missouri’s cities aren’t unique. Kansas saw a rent increase of 8.7% last year, the sixth-highest in the country.

Altogether, the Midwest recorded the biggest rent increase of any region in the U.S., although Rent.com says it still remains the most affordable today.

The Mid-America Regional Council compares Kansas City to 13 other similar metros like Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Portland, Oregon. The organization has found that Kansas City’s rent is one of the fastest-growing among those peer cities.

Josh Akers, a research manager with MARC, said investors buying up single-family homes has increased competition between regular homebuyers — forcing more people to stay locked into the rental market and increasing competition between renters.

Data from the American Community Survey shows that a large portion of renters in Missouri are rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

The disparity is especially bad for low-income renters. Nearly 40% of households making less than $49,000 per year are rent-burdened.

He said the cost burden of housing puts pressure on people’s ability to afford other necessary expenses like food, health care and transportation.

“If you are already struggling to pay your rent, it gets harder to pay at this point as it continues to go up because wages have not kept up with the kinds of increases that we've seen in rent,” Akers said. “As a number of those peer metros have slowed down in terms of rent increases, Kansas City's rent has continued to rise.”

Of course, Kansas City is still far down the list if you purely look at sticker price. New York City is the highest in the country by far, according to Rent.com, at $4,112, followed by San Jose ($3,865), Boston ($3,719), San Francisco ($3,684) and Los Angeles ($3,510).

But Kansas City’s pace of rent hikes has not let up — in 2023, the city saw the third-steepest increase in the country.

“The rent doesn't naturally go down,” Raghuveer said. “And it certainly won't naturally go down in a market that's determined by the profiteers who have an interest in the price of land going up and up and up forever.”

Akers said Kansas City needs a comprehensive affordable housing plan, including building more units priced for moderate- and low-income residents.

Akers warned that if Kansas City doesn’t subsidize affordable housing or find other solutions, rent increases will push residents out of their current living situations. That may mean living further and further away from where they work, in unhealthy buildings or even falling into homelessness.

Over the last few years, KC Tenants has fought for and helped pass renter protections like the Tenants Bill of Rights, banning source of income discrimination, and the Right to Counsel program — which provides lawyers for tenants in eviction court and has prevented more than 1,000 evictions since it began.

Raghuveer believes residents need federal rent control and federally-backed mortgages, as well as local programs like social housing, to help survive the skyrocketing cost of housing.

Missouri law prohibits local governments from establishing rent control protections. But Raghuveer said the city can make smaller fixes, like regulating what a landlord can do if they receive city money or tax incentives — for example, requiring them to repair properties or maintain a certain amount of affordable housing.

Last year, Kansas City subsidized the rent of tenants living in a rundown apartment building through its rental assistance program. Raghuveer said the city needs to start exerting more power over the rental units it subsidizes to get better behavior, and prices, from the rental market.

“If we're not thinking about policy that protects, what we're doing is basically allowing tenants to be extracted and exploited by this business that controls everything about how we get to live,” Raghuveer said.

Data visualizations by the Midwest Newsroom's Daniel Wheaton.

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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