After four hours of emotional public testimony, the KC Tenants Bill of Rights will be held for another week.
Dozens of members of KC Tenants flooded the 26th floor of City Hall in yellow shirts holding signs that read “decent housing is a human right,” “we are stronger together,” and “safe, healthy homes for all.”
The council chambers were split down the middle between members of KC Tenants on one side and landlords in the KC area on the other.
KC Tenants is an organization working to “ensure that everyone in Kansas City has a safe, healthy, accessible, and truly affordable home.”
They have outlined a People’s Housing Platform that lists ten specific problems facing tenants in Kansas City: affordability, eviction, access, health, abusive and unaccountable landlords, speculation and vacancy, demolition, homelessness, gentrification and displacement, and racial inequity.
According to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom in Kansas City is $869.
The hourly rate an individual would need to make to afford FMR for a two-bedroom is $16.
An individual earning minimum wage would need to work 92 hours a week, or 2.3 full-time jobs in order to afford a two-bedroom.
KC Tenants drafted a Tenant Bill of Rights package that includes a resolution and an ordinance.
KC Tenants is asking the council to pass the two together and fully fund them to ensure implementation and enforcement.
The resolution aims to enforce existing tenant rights and lists additional protections including the right to organize, protection from retaliation, not passing permit fees to tenants, limits on security deposits, written tenant consent and notification before landlord entry, disclosure about past issues in the unit and a utilities estimate, and the right to receive a Tenant Bill of Rights document before the start of each tenancy.
The resolution includes establishing an adequately-funded Division of Housing and Community Development under the Department of Neighborhoods and Housing Services.
The ordinance would establish a Rental Housing Assistance Unit within a new Division of Housing and Community Development to educate tenants of their rights and resources, operate a Rental Housing Hotline, establish a Rental Housing Center, and publish a regularly-updated Tenant Bill of Rights Document enumerating legal protections.
The Division would work wit hthe Health Department to ensure freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, mental or physical disability, marital status, familial status, age sexual orientation or gender identity, gender expression, ethnic background, being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, source of income, arrest and conviction history, or rental history.
Kathleen Pointer, senior communications and policy strategist for Kansas City Public Schools, said KCPS stood in support of the KC Tenants’ package.
“Housing instability and evictions are traumas that impact many KCPS students and their families,” she said. “Students show up with higher rates of social and emotional distress which becomes an impediment to learning. Think about it. How can a student show up at school ready to learn when they haven’t had a safe place to sleep that night? How can a student thrive when they are moving from school to school to school in just one academic year?”
Gina Chiala, executive director and staff attorney for the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom also stood in support of KC Tenants.
“We are on the front lines of the eviction crisis,” she said. “You can find us every week down in eviction court where four courtrooms are simultaneously undertaking hundreds of eviction cases. We see the issues that are raised in these ordinances on a regular basis. Discrimination based on eviction records keep people homeless chronically for years.”
A homeless member of KC Tenants gave testimony that brought him to tears as he spoke about the difficulty in finding housing because of his criminal record.
“I got out of prison on August 9 and on August 10 I became homeless,” he said. “I don’t have a place to live so I park from place to place. I can’t get a place because everybody discriminates against me because I was locked up. I thought I paid my debt to society, but I guess I didn’t. I get reconvicted every time I try to go and get a place to live and it takes away my dignity. I used to be somebody. I’m being reduced every night that I have to move again and again and again.”
Kansas City landlords who gave public comment discussed their concern for not being able to screen tenants’ previous history or be able to afford mortgages if rents are low.
After much debate, the committee voted to hold off voting for another week to allow for further vetting.
Third District Councilman Brandon Ellington, who voted no on holding the issue, said he wants to see it passed.
“I would like to see the protections actually passed,” he said. “The only issue I see in the ordinance would be the background checks and the rubric to make sure we can figure out who is discriminating and who’s not.”
Mayor Quinton Lucas said they will make sure to have more conversation over the next week.
“I think there is no reason to hold up the resolution, but we will make sure that we look at the housing provider’s comments,” he said. “We’ll hear them out; they are all our constituents. If we have learned anything of late it is that time is not our enemy and so we will make sure that we keep working to move forward on this issue.”
The KC Tenants Bill of Rights will be heard Wednesday, November 13 at 4 p.m. at City Hall.