KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas called on the Jackson County Circuit Court to extend and expand a moratorium on evictions in a letter Tuesday sent to the county’s presiding judge.
Lucas asked Presiding Judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit J. Dale Youngs to halt “all filings, hearings, writs, enforcement, and garnishments, with narrow exceptions” through the end of June 2021 “as a matter of public health.”
Lucas also plans to send similar requests on behalf of all Kansas City residents in Cass, Clay and Platte counties, his office said in a statement announcing the request to Jackson County.
Lucas argued that Jackson County has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that evictions only add to the stress, exacerbate the ongoing health and economic crises, create a barrier to employment, and disproportionately affect minority communities.
“Eviction is already a fundamentally traumatic event, both a cause and a condition of poverty,” Lucas said in the letter. “The pandemic only adds more anguish. Although I speak for all Kansas Citians facing poverty, evictions pose even greater risks to Black Kansas Citians, who are one-third of COVID deaths in the state, but only 11.5 percent of the population. These are among the most important public health and economic interventions our community will ever make. I ask for your consideration.”
While Black and Hispanic people make up 12% and 9% of the Kansas City area’s population, they account for 22% and 13% of the region’s renters, respectively, according to University of Minnesota American Community Survey data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
The United Way of Greater Kansas City received more than 10,000 requests for utilities assistance and more than 8,000 requests for housing and shelter assistance from April 1 to Nov. 30, far and away the biggest needs in the region.
Lucas noted that “almost 50 percent of all Missouri renters have been unable to pay their rent at one time” during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is slightly higher than the national average.
Evictions were halted at the beginning of the pandemic along with most court hearings.
After court proceedings resumed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a federal moratorium on evictions in September, but that order expires at the end of the year.
Many eviction proceedings were allowed to be filed in Jackson County, but have yet to be carried out due to the CDC order. But there are instances where the filing of the eviction lawsuit prompts residents to leave housing for fear of the impending court process.
The 16th Judicial Circuit issued a statement in response to Lucas' letter Tuesday evening, indicating it would not honor the request absent a remedy from a legislative or executive body:
The Legislative and Executive Branches of government create laws and policies. The Judicial Branch enforces those laws and policies. The Court cannot selectively choose which laws and statutes are to be enforced and which laws and statutes can be ignored.
The Court has been and continues to follow and enforce existing laws and statutes of the State of Missouri regarding landlord-tenant disputes. The Court is also complying with and will continue to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Order for the Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions.
“Public health experts and elected officials told us to stay healthy by staying at home, but now court-ordered evictions are forcing us from our homes,” Jenay Manley, a leader with KC Tenants renter’s advocacy group, said in a statement from the mayor’s office. “It doesn't have to be this way. The courts can and should end evictions to save lives.”
Lucas concluded his letter to Youngs by saying “these are among the most important public health and economic interventions our community will ever make. I ask for your consideration.”
He also noted that the 22nd Judicial Circuit in St. Louis City put a similar moratorium through the end of June 2021 in place last month.