KC Tenants rally at City Hall to ‘collect their check’

Skyler Whittaker speaks on the steps of City Hall Wednesday, March 11 to discuss the importance of funding the Tenants Bill of Rights. PHOTO/Elizabeth Orosco

Members of KC Tenants gathered Wednesday morning, March 11, on the south steps of City Hall to discuss a proposal that would fully fund the Tenants Bill of Rights.

KC Tenants is an organization working to “ensure that everyone in Kansas City has a safe, healthy, accessible, and truly affordable home.”

The Tenants Bill of Rights package, which included a resolution and an ordinance, passed 12-1 Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, and was signed into law Dec. 13, 2019. 

KC Tenants asked the council to pass the two together and fully fund them to ensure implementation and enforcement, however, zero funding was provided for the Tenants Bill of Rights in the FY 2020-2021 city budget that was released Feb. 13, 2020.

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 ordinance establishes 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 with the 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.

After three public hearings on the city budget, in which members of KC Tenants attended and advocated for funding, no funds have been allocated for the Tenants Bill of Rights. 

“We cannot keep passing unfunded mandates,” said Jenay Manley, a leader with KC Tenants, at the Feb. 22, 2020 budget hearing. 

At the press conference Wednesday, leaders of KC Tenants discussed the importance of funding the Tenants Bill of Rights and what it means for the tenants who make up 48% of the city’s residents.

“I need to know that I have people who can advocate for me as a tenant when I don’t know how to advocate for myself,” said Skyler Whittaker. “I need the Mayor and the City Council to be accountable for fulfilling their promise to fully fund and implement the Tenants Bill of Rights. I need the leaders of our city to be committed to doing the right thing.”

“If we don’t fund the implementation of the Tenants Bill of Rights, if we don’t fund the outreach and education for our tenants in this city, if we don’t fund enforcement against bad actors, what will we have to do?” asked Kevin Jean-Paul, a leader with KC Tenants. “We are not here asking for funding for our organization. We are not here looking for jobs at City Hall. We are here to collect our check. And with that check, give that power back to the people. We are here and we aren’t going anywhere.”

Mayor Lucas responded in a recent statement, discussing recent work that has been done.

“The plan has always been to fight for as much funding as possible in year one for our Tenants Rights Package that was passed back in December. I think we’ve done an impressive job already finding hundreds of thousands of dollars for temporary rental assistance; we’re working to find hundreds of thousands [of] dollars more for legal assistance for those who face eviction; and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to make sure we can provide more teaching, education, and training about tenants’ rights—not just for tenants, but for landlords, as well. We’ve already made incredible strides in making sure Kansas City is a better place for tenants to live and I look forward to continuing this important work alongside our friends with KC Tenants.”

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