KC Tenants rally against slumlords

KC Tenants, a new group advocating for tenants’ rights, intends to make housing a central issue in the upcoming mayoral election.

In the near future, poor people and communities of color will not be able to live in Kansas City unless major changes are put in place.

That’s the belief of Kansas City Tenants, a new organization led by a multiracial base of tenants, who announced their platform of demands for positive reform on the steps of City Hall this week.

The group was armed with scary facts and equally scary stories of swindling landlords, mold, gas leaks, roach and rats infested dwellings, apartments that make them sick and unresponsive landlords.

Renter problems are a major issue in Kansas City where almost half (46%) of the City’s households are renter occupied. With rising rental rates, it now takes a worker earning minimum wage 92 hours a week, or 2.3 full-time jobs, to afford a typical Kansas City two-bedroom.

Among the biggest problems, according to KC Tenants, is the lack of quality affordable housing. According to KC Tenants, research shows there is a shortage in Kansas City of at least 21, 852 housing units with rents less than $500 a month. Over 13,600 Kansas City residents, who can’t afford to pay market rate rent, currently on the waiting list to receive federal housing assistance in the form of Section 8 or public housing.

Because of the lack of affordable housing, eviction for nonpayment of rent is at an all-time high in Kansas City, with 42 evictions per day filed in Jackson County.

The Solutions

Addressing such a major problem will require a comprehensive strategy with the tenants as the priority, not the developers and landlords, say members of KC Tenants.

KC Tenants believe those affected by the problem should be readily involved in crafting a solution.

“We the tenants are closest to the problem, therefore we should be closest to the solution,” Diane Charity, a KC Tenant leader told the crowd of reporters gathered for the group’s City Hall rally.

Because communities of color have historically suffered disproportionately based on racist housing policies of the City, followed by gentrification, and uneven investments, KC Tenants believes any solution must “pursue reparations” and include policies with “explicit racial justice outcomes.”

Their solutions are divided into three main areas: tenant protections, public funding and supply, and market regulation.

Tenant Protections

At the very core of this movement is a call for a tenant bill of rights. Organizers are calling for the bill to include: right to counsel in a landlord-tenant matter, protection from retaliation, first right of refusal on sale, the right to organize, relocation assistance in the event of a forced move, and protection from exploitative leases and rent-to-own agreements.

Landlords would be required to provide these rights to tenants at the beginning of their lease. Important to the success of the bill of rights, KC Tenants is calling for adequate funding to enforce these rights.

They are also calling for eviction moratoriums during extreme weather and the establishment of a citywide emergency rental assistance program to stop evictions caused by illness, job loss, and other emergencies. They feel this program should be open to anyone, but especially people who owe less than a month’s rent.

After an eviction, people struggle to get into decent housing. That’s why KC Tenants is calling for a program to “scrub eviction records” after a certain period of time, or after the tenants take a remediation course.

Finding housing is also difficult for individuals with criminal records. KC Tenants is calling for a “ban the box” measure for the rental market, thereby removing the question of a past criminal record from rental applications.

Public Funding and Supply

This is a problem that KC Tenants believes will require a great deal of public funding. With a shortage of 21,000 plus affordable units, “$75 million is not enough, 5,000 affordable units will not be enough,” observed KC Tenants. They call for the establishment of a Housing Trust fund, leveraged with the money from the City’s general fund to establish “the bold housing interventions” that are desperately needed. The call for the prioritization of the use of these funds to address homelessness and the demand for affordable housing units with the next decade.

They call for the city to invest heavily in improving their existing public housing stock and for the expansion of the number of public housing units. In addition, “hundreds of Kansas City federally-subsidized apartments will soon lose their rent restrictions as affordability terms expire,” writes KC Tenants. “Kansas city must step in to pay for extended rent restriction terms.

They suggest the City establish a loan pool with attractive terms that landlords could access for rehabilitation of rental properties in exchange for implementation of a long-term affordability standard for rentals units funded through the program.

In addition, KC Tenants suggest the implementation of creative homeownership programs like limited-equity co-ops that allow tenants to earn equity in their units. Programs like these, help promote self-determination as well as long-term affordability for low-income residents.

Market Regulation

From the tenant’s perspective, real estate development and speculation are having a negative impact on the Kansas City housing market. While Missouri law does not allow for the adoption of rent control policies, there are other programs KC Tenants believes can be implemented to help control the dynamics of the Kansas City Housing market.

The concept of Community Benefits Agreements is being used effectively across the country and KC Tenants believes it can also work in Kansas City to ensure that low-income communities and people of color benefit from the large-scale redevelopments in their areas. A CBA is a legally enforceable contract, through which the developer commits to specific actions, such as a range of strategic investments, services, and tangible dividends that he/she will provide to local communities as part of the development project.

KC Tenants proposed the adoption of a Citywide CBA ordinance that would apply to any development over $15 million. Another idea is the adoption of a “net-gain requirement” that would mandate developers replace the affordable units lost by development with either two, or possibly as many as three, affordable units.

Although as previously stated, rent control is not allowed in Missouri, KC Tenants is calling for a lift of the ban and asking the mayor and city council to advocate for a rent control plan.

Call for Candidate Response

KC Tenants made it clear, they’re not a group that’s going anywhere. They believe this issue is too important to the survival of the City. In fact, they feel affordable housing must be the next big issue of City policy makers. 

“Housing needs to be the next mayor’s airport,” said Tiana Caldwell, another KC Tenants organizer. “If big downtown developers are worth hundreds of millions, we are worth more.”

In a timely move, the group is asking candidates in the April 2019 primary for Kansas City mayor and City Council for their commitment to addressing the problem.

Within hours, mayoral candidates Quinton Lucas and Alissia Canady had taken to Instagram stating their support for the group’s efforts.

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