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Tenant Advocates Say Kansas City Mayor Lucas Has Left Them ‘A String Of Broken Promises'

Lisa Rodriguez
KCUR 89.3
Tiana Caldwell, a leader of KC Tenants, gathered with other renters Wednesday at City Hall to call on the mayor to fund an Office of the Tenant Advocate.

Renters in Kansas City, Missouri, are giving Mayor Quinton Lucas a Friday deadline to find money to fund an office that would enforce tenants’ rights.

Members of the tenant’s rights organization KC Tenants also accused Lucas of “gaslighting” them for characterizing them as “crazy” or “entitled” for demanding the money.

The tenants’ bill of rights, which was drafted by KC Tenants alongside the mayor’s office, passed overwhelmingly in December. Among other things, the package codifies protections for renters and requires landlords to disclose information about utilities.

It also commits to “passing legislation to establish an adequately funded Division of Housing and Community Development.” That division, which advocates call the Office of the Tenant Advocate, isn’t mentioned in the proposed budget.

An unfunded mandate

Standing outside City Hall Wednesday morning, Kevin Jean Paul, a leader of KC Tenants, said that without the funding, the bill of rights cannot be widely distributed, much less enforced.

“The rights we fought so hard to win will not be known for the tenants across this city. Rights violations will not be investigated, bad actors will not be held accountable,” Jean Paul said.

Advocates in October asked for $1 million to fund the department. They say Lucas told them in a meeting that month that finding the money wouldn’t be an issue.

“We have nothing to show but our on-paper victory in December and a string of broken promises,” tenant Niko Colom said.

“We’re tired of being gaslit by the mayor, being characterized as crazy or entitled for demanding what we are owed,” she said.

Lucas has said the legislation never established a timeline for creating or funding a tenant advocate office and he didn’t receive a detailed budget request from KC Tenants until after the budget was released.

Advocates disagree. They listed several instances in which they met and discussed the funding with the mayor, including a meeting on Oct. 21 at which they say the mayor told them he could “definitely find that kind of money.”

Lucas has previously expressed the need to back up the tenant legislation with money. In an email to KC Tenants on Oct. 20, 2019, he suggested creating a housing division with an Office of Tenant Advocate, rather than a stand-alone department for tenants.

“An unfunded and under-enforced tenants' advocacy department and bill of rights gives us a quick win, but not the long-term win the people deserve,” Lucas wrote.

At the signing ceremony for the tenants’ bill of rights in December, Lucas said that passing the legislation was “just the beginning” and that adequate funding was needed for everything in the bill of rights. He said his administration had “been committed to this since Day One.”

Other budget concerns

Lucas has come under fire recently for his proposed budget, whichalso fails to fully fund zero-fare transit.

Tenant James Owens says the two initiatives shouldn’t be competing for funding while the city continues to award tax breaks to private companies.

“Mayor Lucas did a victory lap in December after the council passed zero-fare transit and the tenant’s bill of rights. Now neither thing is fully funded,” Owens said.

Lucas has also taken heat for proposed cuts to Children’s Mercy Hospital and to arts and entrepreneurship programs. He restored some of those cuts last month, although several organizations still object to where he found the money.

The Kansas City Council must pass a final budget by March 26.

Asked to comment about KC Tenants' concerns, Lucas responded in an email that “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 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,” Lucas said. 

He noted that he'd extended an invitation to KC Tenants to meet with him Thursday morning.

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and the city hall reporter for KCUR 89.3 Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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