– You’re breaking the house. – This is what it looks like when housing policy fails. – Right there.
– Oh my god. – Oh my goodness.
– That is terrible. – It’s almost I’m possible
to put it into words that a human being in
America goes to bed in a bed like that every night. – Tenants living in
squalor and danger. – The smell of the
gas, I smell gas. – With eviction an
ever-present threat. – Right now, I’m not in a
position to move in 10 days. – We’ve handed control
to the private market and many tenants feel trapped. – I’m stuck between
choosing whether or not to be shot at
or paying more. – I said the TV though,
there’s a TV still in there. – My husband and I
aren’t heartless, we don’t wanna put
kids out on the street, but it’s also not
my responsibility, I’ve got bills. – I’m the landlord. – In this film, we ask
why we still don’t have decent, affordable
housing for all. – That was a solution to
any problem you had running, you just move. And why should we have to? – Is it time for
America to accept that it has an
eviction epidemic. – But as you can see, we’re
getting ready to move. – As you can see,
with the seal on it, a real eviction notice. – An epidemic that
might only get worse. – I don’t wanna leave, I
have no place else to go. – I will not have the
finds to run the programs that are so desperately needed. (dramatic bell ringing) – We are heading to
Jackson County courthouse, that’s in downtown Kansas City, we’re gonna see
dozens and dozens of tenants on those dockets facing eviction this morning. – As an attorney,
Gina Giala has decided to fight for the most
vulnerable in society. – Housing is one of the things that defines the
character of your city. Is housing affordable? Safe? Sanitary? – These questions are
answered every Thursday on the seventh floor of the
Jackson County Courthouse, here eviction cases are heard. – These are two
more courtrooms here where additional
people are going to be facing addiction
this morning, so four dockets all together. – For Gina and her
team, it’s frantic work trying to help
tenants avoid eviction. – I’m here in court right
now for my landlord, he served me papers
and their going to evict me, or at least they’re
threatening to evict me. My car broke down
and I needed a car to get to work so I
went and got a payment and was late on my rent. – Landlord’s have
to be paid rent but tenants have rights too. – I’m here today to
fight for my rights. There’s mold in the home. We’re living in black mold,
that’s wrong, that’s wrong. – But in the experience
of Gina and her team, many tenants are tripped
up by the system. – They don’t know
the information about the court
process, they don’t know what to file, they don’t
know when to file it. – Gina comes across a
tenant sitting distraught. – So she came to
court dutifully, came to court early and
as happens sometimes because court is confusing,
she sat in the wrong courtroom. – While her case was heard
in a different courtroom. When she realized her
mistake, she dashed over and caught the
landlord outside but he doesn’t wanna speak with her. – And the court informed
her that after ten days, the sheriff would
come in and remove her and her three
children from her home. – I don’t know, I’m
hopin’ that I can stop the judgment
and obtain a lawyer so I can get more time to move. – Leandra was
behind on the rent, but she wanted to
tell the court that the landlord had ignored
her complaints about the mold in the property. – And my kids keep getting sick. – Do you have anywhere
to move to now? – At the moment, no. – Gina offers what
help she can but Leandra doesn’t stay in touch. – Our housing laws in
Missouri are skewed in favor of
landlords and tenants are definitely
disfavored in the system. – The Heartland Center
for Jobs and Freedom opened it’s doors
in April of 2017 with a full-time staff of two, it’s mission is to
help low wage workers, they’ve only just started to
attend the eviction court. – We don’t have funding
for handling this docket. But when you see
people getting evicted right there in front
of you and you know how to stop it, it’s very
difficult not to get involved. – In October of 2017, this
house in Kansas City’s Eastside was rented
by Tammy Austin. Three months later and
she’s facing eviction. – This is my first notice
that I got on my door. And then comes a
few weeks later, I got, as you can see
with the seal on it, a real eviction notice. – Having not long
finished unpacking, she’s now packing to move out. Where you gonna go to next? – I’m not sure. I’m not sure, cause you
know, this has just happened. They don’t give you a lot
of time to find a place. (snapping fingers) Like that. – Tammy no longer
wants to stay but she’s anxious to avoid an
eviction on her record because it makes
it harder to rent. Gina takes on her case
but time is against them. – There’s a law in our
books here in Missouri that says the judge
has to set the case at the first
possible court date, so Tammy is served
with this lawsuit on December 27th and then
her first court date is January fourth and her
trial date in January 11th. It’s not enough time to
be able to adequately prepare a case for trial. – The case is that
Tammy wasn’t, in fact, late on her rent. – I don’t know how its gonna go but hopefully everything
goes in my favor. – They head into court. The presiding judge declined
our request to film inside. A short time later
and they’re back out. – The landlord didn’t
have an attorney, which is unusual, they
took a position in court that was favorable
to us and allowed us to have potentially
have won the case. – It’s a blessing to have
had her here with me today because I don’t know
what the outcome would have been if she
had not been here. – It just makes me
think about how many tenants would be able to avoid
judgements in their cases if they had access to council. – Is Gina onto something? Well, the Kansas City
eviction project, headed by Tara Raghuveer,
has just finished crunching ten
years worth of data for the Jackson
County Eviction Court. – From the data set,
we know that around 9,000 evictions are filed
every year in Jackson County. Many more are
happening informally with no data to represent them. – In 84% of cases the
landlord had an attorney. Whereas the figure for
tenants was just 1.3% and in nearly every court
case, the tenant was evicted. – It’s not just a
forced move, it results in loss of jobs, loss
of access to schools, to their healthcare providers. – In recent years, New
York City has dramatically expanded it’s free
legal services for
those facing eviction. Eviction has dropped by 24%. – Our hope is that we
will be able to come up with a proposal,
get it funded, and have an attorney who’s
just here full-time. Right now were just
doing it on the fly. – 1987 was when I bought
my first rental property. – Stephen Summers
owns around 50 rental properties across Kansas City. – We are off to
knock on the door of one of our tenants
that we are getting ready to file an eviction on. We try to educate our
tenants, if the rent is late, there are late
fees that have to be paid. If they’re gonna be
late, to call me, to let me know because if
I don’t hear from them, I don’t know what’s going on. (knocking on door) – This tenant, in
northeast Kansas City, owes Stephen around
$3,000 dollars, which includes
three months rent. Stephen thought they’d
agreed to a payment schedule but nothing has
been paid so far. And he can’t reach her by phone. – If there’s no
penalty for not paying, it’s just human nature. Why would you pay? Well I’m the landlord,
I just came by– – An eviction can cost Stephen. – An empty house is
money hole, it will suck the money right out of
my bank account fast. We don’t want empty houses. Your mom needs to give
me a call right away. Stephen cancels the
eviction for the tenant after she starts to follow
the payment schedule but on a later date,
two miles to the south following the court order,
there’s a different outcome. (dog barking) – We have to set the
personal items out on the street curb as we
are changing the locks. They won’t be allowed
back on the property. – The tenants aren’t here. Stephen thinks they’re at work and the kids at school. – Some of the bigger
furniture and some of the electronics are
gonna stay in the house. If the tenant wants them they
can call me at the office. – The monthly rent was
$500 dollars and they haven’t paid the
last four months. Stephen’s team bag
up all the personal items and it’s left on the curb. Some people watching
this, they think, Steve’s a bit
heartless, isn’t he? I mean, this is someone’s home. – I would say we follow the law. They had the chance to
come and pay their rent, they refused to,
unfortunately they’re paying the price today. – Stephen tries to avoid
evictions like this by only renting
to certain people. – It’s been our experience,
over the last 30 years, that if someone is
paying more than 25% of their income for their rent, they will not be
able to keep that up. – If you’re paying
over 30% of your income on housing, the
federal government says
your cost burdent. So how many tenants are cost
burdened in the city area? Around 275,000. – So I’ve always tried
to keep rent within, I think the guideline
is no more than 25 to 30 percent of your income. – Amy works as a doctor in
a hospital in Kansas City. – I wanted to live in
the Crossroads because it is a great commute
but also I like the environment, I like the energy. – The Renascent
Crossroads District lies to the south of
downtown Kansas City. Amy first moved into a
one bedroom here in 2011. – And the rent was
$1,000 dollars a month and did not include utilities, but still seemed fair to me. – Three years later and
Amy’s landlord wanted to sell so she had to move out. – And so I found another
place in the crossroads, one bedroom, one bathroom. It was $1,450 a month
so it was quite a jump up from what I had been paying. – But with parking costs and
the further rent increase, Amy found she was paying over 30 percent of her income on
housing so she had to leave. – I realize that
I couldn’t afford to live in the Crossroads. So I went south and I am
paying significantly less than what I was paying before. – So part of Kansas
City may have become too pricey
even for doctors. But for those on a low income,
it’s the same all over. – First, I am a
housing economist, secondly I’m also a
specialist on Affordable Housing program sponsored
by the federal government. – The research of professor
Kirk McClur shows why. – What this indicates is
that if your income is below about 20,000
dollars a year, there really are just not
enough units for you in the Kansas City area. – The orange bars show
the number of households in each income bracket in
the Kansas City Metro area. The blue bars show
the availability of affordable rental units. You’ll see there’s
a shortage of units for the poorer households. – As rents increase
faster than inflation, renter income increases
slower than inflation, we are not adding units
at the lower end of the price spectrum, we’re creating that perfect storm
for evictions. – In the Kansas city
area, around 140,000 low income tenants are
caught in that storm. They can’t afford the
housing costs and they’re no where cheaper
for them to move to. We’ll hear some more
of their stories later. But 40 miles to the
west of Kansas City, the City of Lawrence
has decided to act. – Everybody has to
pay more for housing across the board
but some people have to give up luxuries,
other people have to give up necessities. – Since mid 2015 the
city of Lawrence has had an affordable housing
advisory board. It’s shared by Pastor
Matthew Studvant. – If you give money
we can give food and meet some of
those immediate needs. But we also have to fix
systems that have created the need in the first place. – The politicians,
including the Mayor, have got on board. – So the city
staff heard what we were saying and recommended
that we identify an increment of a sales tax
to be put on the ballot. To let the citizens
decide whether or not this was goal for the community. – In the Fall of 2017
Lawrence voters said yes to the sales tax and
the advisory board was shepard a million
dollars more a year so incentivize the development
of affordable housing. – Before too long, in the
next few months actually, we’ll be recieving
the results of a study that will help us what
do we need to build most, what do we need to build first. This is a significant tool
but it’s not the solution. We have to try many
different things to address this
spectrum of need. It’s a regional problem,
it’s also a national problem. Is the problem being tackled
in the Kansas City area? It has around 60,000 low income households in need of
affordable rental housing. Last year the number
of units built for them was around 60 whereas the
number of more expensive units built was around 4,000. – There’s not whole lot left. We’ve filtered what we need
to keep and what we can’t, this is what we’re gonna
save and put in storage. – I fear tomorrow
that the judge would, since they have a lawyer
and I do not have a lawyer, will cause me and my
children to be homeless. – Both Nicole and
Robert play to fight the evictions by
themselves in court, in the hope of buying more time. – Just to be able to have
somewhat of an extension until I can find
housing for my family. – Cause you never called, just
like you didn’t the electric. – Hey, sir, you just
say what you wanna say. If I can’t get that in
ten days then I’m gonna be forced to move
into a hotel or somewhere with my children. – Nicole owes around $1,300
dollars or two months rent. It was nearly 50
percent of her income. Robert had to take
on a new job and rent took 40 percent
of what he was paid. – Getting paid eight
dollars an hour so even at 60 hours a week, it’s not really enough to afford
that an a car payment. – He rented this house in
Kansas City’s east side for $750 dollars a month
before he found somewhere safe. – Recently not too long
ago we’ve had a bullet pass through our window and
it’s just one of those things. It’s the way it is
here in Kansas City. – Having borrowed some
money from a friend, he moves his family out
before they’re forced out. – Here we are gathering
the last of our things, this is my beautiful
wife and daughter. (car door slamming) and that’s it. We’ve managed to get this
weekly place until this Sunday. Opportunities have opened up, I believe that we’ll
be able to go to Texas and we’re not sure
if it’s gonna work out yet or not,
but it’s for her, my little daughter Scotland. – Robert and his wife
raised the money they need for gas by
selling their plasma. Meanwhile, in east Kansas
City, Nicole hasn’t got the money to stay or leave. – What I have been trying to do is knock on any and
every door entity whether it’s churches all
the way to Smithville, all the way to Leewood,
Kansas to see if someone would be
willing to donate. – She could be
evicted any day now and the stress is
starting to show. – I can go on, and on, and on to the break of dawn around here. – 11 days later the
police accompany the courts deputies who’ll
execute the eviction. – She’s supposed
to be coming out and my husbands changing
the locks on the house. – Oh, so you’re the landlord? – Yeah. – What’s happening here
today, can I ask you? – Yeah, she’s being evicted. – She hasn’t paid rent,
there’s other things, like the water and
that, but the main thing is she hasn’t paid rent and she think she’s being targeted
to have to pay rent. (banging) – I was really looking
for places for $500. However with the winter
time approaching, I just took the property. – My husband and I
aren’t heartless, we don’t want to put
kids out on the street. But it’s also not
my responsibility. I’ve got bills. – A few months ago Nicole’s
17 year old daughter was shot in the ankle and Nicole took unpaid time off
work to care for her. – They not helping
us do nothing. You wanna keep on
being nice to them, they’re not being nice to
us when our stuffs outside. – Nicole also has an
eight year old son who’s at school today. – I like to keep my kids stable, I don’t like to move around. – But this will be their
third move in two years. This time, they’re
going to stay with her sister who lives nearby. – Because of this situation
and how it’s been, my husband is seriously thinking about getting out
of the business. – We researched
court records for Wyandotte county
and Johnson county, last year, together
with Jackson county, there were nearly
14,000 evictions filed and many others don’t
go through the courts. But isn’t public housing
supposed to address this? The housing authority
in Kansas City, Missouri is headed by Edwin Lounze. – The question I
frequently get is, “Well, if they’re
not in public housing or on the wait list,
where do they live?” They’re living with
other relatives or they may be paying 40, 50, 60 percent of their
income towards rent. – Nicole and her children
are on the waiting list for a housing voucher. – I’ve been number 69 on
the waiting list since 2016. – The housing authority
provides public housing or vouchers the
contributor to the rent. It’s focus is on those
households learning less than 20,000 dollars a year. At the moment, in Kansas
City, it has over 12,000 families on it’s
waiting list, which for a one bedroom
housing unit, could be as long as fifteen years. And the federal government wants
to cut more of it’s budget. – It’s very very
disappointing and frightening. I will not have the funds to run the programs that are
so desperately needed. – So low income tenants
are at the mercy of the private market and
don’t have an escape route. But some are given hope. (clapping and cheering) – Many of the residents are
elderly, they’re disabled, many of them have very
serious medical conditions and frankly, a lot
of them are one step away from being homeless. – The block is called
Central Block Towers and it’s in Kansas City, Kansas. Many of it’s tenants qualify
for rental assistance from the US department
of housing or HUD. This evening, some of
them are meeting their lawyer, Bryce Bell. – We’ve heard some
stories about the issues that some of the tenants
were facing such as, bed bugs, rodents,
mice, and cockroaches. – One tenant decided
she’d had enough. – Your told when
you’re growin’ up, sleep tight, don’t
let the bed bugs bite. Well I thought it was a myth or you know, an old wise tale
but it wasn’t, they exist. – In 2014, a year
after she’d moved in, Tara’s nights became
the stuff of nightmares. – You’d feel things
walking across your face, um, crawling up your
back, they bite, and they would itch so bad. Oh, these are scars
from bed bugs. All the little spots. – Terry tried to
get rid of them. She notified the
blocks managers, the Wyandotte county
unified government and the Kansas Housing
Resources Corporation but in infestation continued. Desperate, she thought
she’d call an attorney. – It’s outside of my
typical practice area. – I was looking and Google
pulled up attorneys, I’d seen him and
I’m like no and I seen him again
and I’m like okay. On prayers that I hope they
take this and they did. – Bryce took on
Terry’s case and those of about 70 other tenants
that had similar complaints. – I think somebody has
to speak out and somebody has to do the right
thing, if that’s our law firm then do be it. – This evening’s meeting
is for Bryce to update his clients on how the
case is progressing. But he’s had a tip
off about a tenant upstairs who’s not
been able to attend. (knocking) The elderly gentlemen
living in this apartment is struggling to
look after himself. He has an infestation
of bed bugs. – Oscar, yeah. Right there.
– Oh my goodness. – Oh my God.
– That is terrible. – Oh my God.
– All over here. – Oh my God. It’s almost impossible
to put it into words that a human being in
America goes to bed in a bed like that every night. – The federal
government classifies bed bugs as a public
health pest which can effect mental
health as who’s bites can cause allergic reactions
and secondary infections. (talking in background) The tenants friends
have tried to help and acting on
complaints, the managers have repeatedly had
pest control visit. The managers have
been working with the unified government to
resolve issues in the block. Terry doesn’t have an
infestation anymore, but she fears
they’re coming back. – We have a bed bug
that I captured. – She’s had to
throw her bed away. – The mattresses away,
the frame, the headboard. I had to throw away
the matching dresser. There’s no way to get them
out so I sleep on the floor. – Bryce visits
another apartment. This one seems very clean. The tenant has done
what he can and pest control have been in and sprayed
but it still has bed bugs. – There’s a bed bug. – Terry lived with bed
bugs for around three years until her entire apartment
was given heat treatment. She believes her
complaints singled her out. – They have threatened
to evict me, I’m in process of
eviction right now. It’s retaliation. – The blocks management
claims she breached her lease. Bryce is defending her. She wants to leave
but her total monthly income is $750 dollars
for her disability. – But if you call a
lot of these places, you have to pay the
rent plus utilities. It’s so hard, it’s so hard. – One of our major concerns
when we first started investigating last year
was, what happens if HUD or unified government
or somebody else shuts this building down and
what we found, I believe, is there is a bit
of a housing crisis. – What do you mean by that? – I mean there’s no where
else for them to go. – We reached out to
the blocks owners and the management company,
but they didn’t respond. – What is it that’s biting you? – The bed bug. – Since 2000, inspectors
from the local unified government and HUD between them have visited
the block 14 times. Bryce hopes to win justice
for the tenants in court. – One could conclude
that there needs to be more regulation, there
needs to be more affective enforcement and when you don’t, you get situations like
Central Park Towers. – Does government need
to do more to protect tenants vulnerable to
poor living conditions? (beeping) On the other side of the
state line in Missouri, the city of Independence
has decided that it does. – We have wonderful
landlords living in our city but you know, you always
have to be looking out for those who
abuse the system. – Today, this rental
property is being inspected. And the mayor of Independence
has been invited along. – You know, after many
years of discussion, we were finally able
to implement a program. – The landlords every two
years have to do an inspection. – The inspections came
into effect in 2017. Unlike in Kansas, it’s an on going requirement for landlords. They pay $50 dollars
per unit and choose from a list of inspectors,
which includes Mike. – Then we set a
time and do the nine items listed on inspection. – Although the program
was built as a public health measure, Mike is not
required to inspect for black mold or pests, not
that he found any here. – If I see those things I
mention it to the landlord, but that is not
something on our list. – Why build in such
a big loophole? – Well, you know, this
was developed after many conversations
with landlords. There was significant
push back from landlords on a number of these issues. That is something that
is, as we continue to develop this program, that
we need to start looking at. – The inspections have
made 100’s of rental properties safer, this
led to 100’s of landlords registering within the city. To the west in Kansas
City, Missouri, campaigners have
taken encouragement. – Landlords are in
the public business, they rent to the public. That they say, “Well this
is a private business.” You know, “You can’t
tell me what to do.” – The campaigners have
collected signatures to put a rental inspection
ordnance on the ballot. It would be wider
than Independence’s and it should cover black
mold and pest infestations. – We should insist
on safe housing that’s also affordable and
we an do both and we should. – Some landlords,
however, oppose the idea of rental inspectors. – To justify their
job, they’re gonna have to find things wrong. The good landlords
have to pay more money which has to be passed
on to their tenants. The landlords who do not
register their properties, they can rent their houses
cheaper than we can. – The battle lines
have been drawn, mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner
is with the petitions. – But what we’re trying
to do is create a system where we can assure
that everybody, not only can live in a good house
but if they call the city, don’t have the threat of
eviction hanging over them and that’s really what
we’re talking about here. – They’ll take the petition
to the city clerks office. The mayor, Pro Tem, has also
directed the city manager to conduct a housing
needs assessment, which will look into
affordability issues. This way last done in 2006. Meanwhile, in the Jackson
county courthouse, Gina Giala and her
team will continue to fight for tenants
facing eviction. – So they have no gas,
they have no heat, and the landlord has brought an illegal eviction against him. – In 1950, President
Harry S. Truman said, “In a country such
as ours, there is no reason why decent homes should not be within the reach of all.” – The state of America
is, in my opinion, in really bad shape. I just don’t think they
are about us anymore. I really don’t. (soft piano music)