Bryanna Janssen stood in a line of about 50 people outside Center of Hope, a stack of papers in her arms.
Among the papers was an eviction notice.
She felt overwhelmed at the thought of leaving her home, a one-bedroom apartment. But she hoped she’d at least be given enough time to pack up her belongings while she and her son stay with her mother.
On average, nearly eight households are evicted in Wichita every day. In 2016, 4.44 percent of all rental households were evicted in Wichita, according to the first nationwide database of evictions.
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That puts Wichita close to the middle (54 out of 100) when it comes to eviction rates among cities with more than 100,000 people, according to the data compiled by The Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
Kansas City was 31st in 2016, with a 5.6 percent eviction rate. Topeka fared slightly better than Wichita, at 58th, with a 4.3 percent eviction rate. The top evicting large city that year was North Charleston, South Carolina, with an eviction rate of 16.5 percent.
Joyce Stockham, executive director of the Mid-Kansas Community Action Program, said most of the people her organization works with live paycheck to paycheck. Her organization covers 19 counties in south-central Kansas, excluding Sedgwick County.
“When they have to pay $100 for a tire, that wipes $100 from their rent,” she said. “It’s not that they’re mismanaging their money, it’s that they don’t have enough money to manage everything that can happen.”
For Janssen, multiple events piled up, leaving her unable to pay her $498 rent. She and her husband separated, leaving her with less income. Her electricity bill and car payments were due. She found out that she was pregnant again.
She tried to work with the apartment managers, Janssen said, but after a grace period they told her she had to leave.
“We all have our hard times where we struggle," Janssen said. "At least we’re trying to communicate with you to try to work with you. I’m not just trying to leave them high and dry and not get them their money. I’m trying to work with them. They don’t want to work with me.”
Evictions are a multifaceted problem, said George Dinkel, director of the homeless prevention program Center of Hope. His program has helped people who have been evicted or are at risk of eviction because of drug use, domestic violence, losing a spouse, deportation of a family member, a layoff or an unexpected illness.
When the center assists with just 30 days worth of rent, people sometimes completely turn things around, finding a job or putting a payment plan in place, Dinkel said. At the same time, 21 percent of the people they helped with rent assistance last year were evicted within the next six months.
Kansas as a whole had an eviction rate of 2.3 percent in 2016, with 8,559 evictions. That’s 23.39 evictions a day. The United States average is close: 2.34 percent in 2016.
Since 2000, Kansas has usually had lower eviction rates than the average U.S. rate, with the exception of 2013 and 2014.
Wichita’s eviction rate has consistently been higher than both the national and state averages. The city also has a higher poverty rate and percentage of rental homes than the state average.
Ashley Gromis, postdoctoral research associate at The Eviction Lab, said they’re still looking into the discrepancies between national, state and local data. In order to create the database, they looked at more than 83 million eviction records dating back to 2000. The numbers aren’t complete, she said, since many landlords will force tenants out of a house without filing an official eviction with the court.
“What we’re really hoping for is that people take these data and really look into them in their area, explore reasons why their town has a high rate or low rate of evictions and really think about why their area might look different from areas nearby or other comparable cities,” Gromis said.
Some have more questions than answers when it comes to a solution.
Laurie Fritz, director of asset management for the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, said she was struck by how many Kansas cities appeared on the list of top 100 eviction rates (Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita). KHRC serves as the primary administrator of federal housing programs for the state.
“We need to try to figure out a way to make housing affordable, but the cost of everything continues to go up every year,” Fritz said. “How do you weigh that? If the cost of everything is going up, how do we keep it affordable?”
Education on budgeting and rental law could also help lower eviction rates, she said.
Lynn Tatlock and Jill Skaggs both work for the Salvation Army in Wichita. Tatlock, director of homeless services, and Skaggs, director of emergency social services, said affordable housing is key to lowering the number of evictions.
“The reality is you could build a million shelter beds and fill it up, but we don’t want people living in shelters, we want people living in the community in their own home,” Tatlock said.
At the same time, affordable housing isn’t an easy answer, Skaggs said. Questions remain about what affordable housing means, who should provide that and how to get people into jobs that offer a living wage.
After her electricity was cut off, Janssen moved in with her mother. She has switched from a job that paid $13 an hour to a job that pays $14.50, and she hopes to eventually move in with roommates. As she seeks help with her rent, she’s trying to stay positive.
"I can’t help but think about it," Janssen said. "At least I have a job. I do have a place to stay for the time being."
Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @kathsburgess
Resources for people facing evictions
The Salvation Army in Wichita, 316-263-2769Center of Hope, 316-267-3999The American Red Cross, 316-219-4000United Way of the Plains, 316-267-1321Catholic Charities, Diocese of Wichita, 316-264-8344United Methodist Open Door, 316-265-9371