By Jazzlyn Johnson, The Community Voice

Thousands are at risk of being evicted when the CDC eviction moratorium expires March 31, and with few options for affordable housing in Kansas City, many may face houselessness.

“The market does not supply housing that is truly affordable for most poor and working-class tenants in Kansas City – people spend most of their income on housing and that ain’t right,” said Jenay Manley, a leader with KC Tenants at a press conference Thursday. “As the market for truly affordable homes tightens, housing conditions suffer and people find themselves in increasingly desperate conditions, therefore renting worse properties.”

According to a study led by Jeff Williams, director of City Planning and Development in 2018, a majority of those making less than $35,000 in Kansas City spend more than 30% of their income on rent and have fewer options for affordable housing.

This month, the city has worked to help tenants with short-term needs like rent and utility assistance, while also teaming up with community groups to create long-term initiatives that would create more affordable housing.

One of the long-term plans is selling vacant, Land Bank homes for $1 to new owners who will fully rehabilitate the property. The owner will then provide the property to the homeless and individuals who make $18,000 annual income or less.

“This is part of our work to provide long-term and affordable solutions for those experiencing homelessness and those in need of affordable housing,” said Brian Platt, city manager. “This initiative will dramatically increase our affordable housing supply and focuses on the most vulnerable families in our community.”

There will be a community meeting about details of the Land Bank Dollar Sale April 1 at 6 p.m. Details are available here: kcmolandbank.org.

The city is also planning on building affordable housing units on the Barney Allis Plaza site. The design phase will soon be underway.

Thursday, city council approved nearly $1 million of its 2021-2022 fiscal year budget to fund the Office of the Tenant Advocate to hire full time employees to help tenants understand their renting rights, a move KC Tenants has demanded since last year.

While KC Tenants claim victory, they say the work for affordable housing is not over. The group announced their proposal for the city to create a Housing Trust Fund designed and led by working-class tenants, funded by taxing developers and defunding the police.

The policy would fund affordable housing and programs that would continue to protect tenant rights.

“The Housing Trust Fund would channel funding away from the institutions that disproportionately harm our communities, especially Black and Brown tenants and into a new system that will heal,” said Jordan Ayala, KC Tenants leader. “The funding mechanisms are designed to divest power and resources from the forces of displacement and gentrifying developers and invest power in our communities providing stability and dignity to tenants.”

While KC Tenants’ proposal is still in the beginning stages, they look forward to working with city council to make the Housing Trust Fund a reality.

Need assistance with rent or utilities? Check out these resources:

Kansas City Rent and Utility Relief now taking applications for those that are at risk of homelessness or housing instability. Find out if you’re eligible here: KCMO.gov/RentHelp. Apply for assistance here: communitycarelink.com/cares-act-assistance-sign-up.

The United Way: Call 211 for assistance with housing and shelter, utilities and transportation.

Evergy: Set up a payment arrangement here: https://www.evergy.com/manage-account/billing/financial-help.

KC Water: If you are behind on your monthly bill, call 311 (816-513-1313) and select option 1 for financial assistance and payment arrangements.

Jackson County Rent, Utility, & Mortgage Assistance: Those experiencing hardship from COVID-19 may qualify for rent, utility and mortgage assistance. Apply here: https://hipaa.jotform.com/203036397788164.

KC Tenants Hotline: Call 816-533-5435 to get help with legal questions, homelessness and immediate crises.

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