In the past, Kansas City officials had no authority to rectify health and safety problems in rental properties. But in August 2018, voters approved the Healthy Homes Initiative that allowed the health department to investigate complaints and to seek remedies.

In August of this year, the program was such a success, the city council expanded that authority to include federally subsidized Section 8 housing, as well as nonprofit rental housing.

The program is complaint-driven, and in the past year, the Kansas City Health Department has fielded about 1,000 complaints from throughout the city – everything from mold and insect infestations to sewage backups, lack of running water and broken air-conditioning.

It has been able to resolve about 60% of those cases and works with property owners to rectify the problems, said Naser Jouhari, senior public health manager with the city.

“We’re seeing corrective action plans submitted by landlords, and they are fixing most of the violations that we see,” Jouhari said.

Life-threatening violations must be fixed immediately or the city will order that tenants be moved. There’s only been one situation where tenants were required to vacate their apartments because they were deemed uninhabitable.

The program is funded primarily through a $20 per-unit fee paid by the landlords annually when they register their properties. So far, Jouhari said, the city has registered about 67,000 units. It estimates about 20,000 more will be added now that the council has expanded the program to include federally-subsidized or nonprofit properties.

Many tenants in Kansas City have struggled for years, but the tide is changing.

“With the citizens passing this on an election,” he said, “I think it shows generally that there is an awareness and a concern for the quality of housing that we’re renting out to people,” said Kansas City Councilman Dan Fowler.

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