An advocate for tenants’ rights, Tara Raghuveer established KC Tenants earlier this year to fight for safe, healthy and truly affordable homes for everyone in the metro. KC Tenants is a joint effort by many people who have been impacted by housing and security. Raghuveer has been studying evictions in the Kansas City area for the past six years. Her work led to the formation of the Kansas City Eviction Project, an ongoing research initiative run by volunteers and community leaders studying 200,000 eviction records in the metro. Born and raised in the Shawnee Mission area, Raghuveer graduated SM East in 2010 and earned a degree in social studies at Harvard University. Before moving back to the Kansas City area, she helped organize movements in Chicago, including one for immigrant rights and another for housing. When she’s not working, she enjoys running (just ran her second marathon in October), reading a good book, enjoying live music performances and dancing. She lives with her partner, a musician, in northeast Kansas City, Missouri.
When I was beginning my eviction research in Kansas City, I started scheduling interviews with a number of different people who had been evicted, who had faced eviction, who are living homeless.
I scheduled interviews with local landlords and property managers. I set up times with some local advocates to go and observe court proceedings, basically all in an attempt to really understand evictions and what the full footprint of evictions look like in Kansas City, mostly on the Missouri side, but I was studying in a five-county metro area, including Wyandotte and Johnson County.
In the process, I met a couple named Chuck and Ivy. Chuck was 85 at the time, and Ivy was 83, and they agreed to meet me for an interview at a McDonald’s pretty close to where I had grown up. It was actually a McDonald’s, the one off of Rainbow. I had driven by that McDonald’s a million times. That day in December 2013 — so almost exactly six years ago — I met Chuck and Ivy there.
They had been living in a trailer park, actually just outside of the city boundaries on the Missouri side, and their landlord, they told me, had started just tacking on all of these extra costs to their rent: an additional fee for the trash, an additional fee for their dog, Sheila, and these costs had started to stack up to the point where they were falling behind on their rent.
Chuck received Social Security and veterans benefits, and that was their entire income. So they were living well below the poverty line on a fixed income. And obviously both of them were too old to work and neither really had any family left.
And this is after both of them had worked their entire lives. Chuck told me that he had been working since he was 13 and then went and served overseas, came back, worked his whole life, but they didn’t have a lot in savings and they had no family to turn to, so when I met them in December 2013, they were being evicted by their property manager because they had fallen behind on rent and the manager was unwilling to work with them any longer. So I tell you this story because imagine me — I’ve grown up in Shawnee Mission, I know it to be a place of relative privilege, and, certainly, my life was one of relative privilege — and then I find myself as an adult at a McDonald’s that I was really familiar with, with an elderly couple that’s worked their whole lives, who’s facing eviction in December with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, with so little money coming in and no options. That was a real punch-in-the-gut moment for me.
This bubble that had been my world growing up where I did and among the people that I grew up around was completely burst as I started to realize how futile Chuck and Ivy’s situation was. There really was no one for them to turn to and nowhere for them to go.
Ivy had suffered from dementia so she was a little, she was in and out of our conversation, but Chuck was kind of holding it down. At one point I remember Ivy was stirring for coffee, looked up from her coffee and said, it’s OK honey. We’ll just live out of our truck.
That broke my heart into a million pieces. The idea that in the richest country in the history of the world and in a community like Kansas City, so full of riches and with so much money to spend on things like downtown investments, that we as a society could be failing people like Chuck and Ivy so terribly in the years where they should be aging with dignity and getting to age in place as opposed to facing potentially living out of their truck in December.
I left that meeting and I knew that my life was gonna change. I couldn’t really imagine a future for myself that didn’t involve fighting the injustice in multiple systems that put Chuck and Ivy in that position in their eighties.
And I also consider that to be sort of a rude awakening about the bubble that I grew up within and how little I had known previously about my own hometown. ‘Cause the story that Chuck and Ivy told me obviously is not a story that I was very familiar with growing up where I did, but it is one that’s part of this metro area, and it’s one that more people need to know about.