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Kansas City is now giving free legal help for eviction cases. Here's what you need to know

Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Members of KC Tenants, the Missouri Workers Center, Stand Up KC and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom gathered Wednesday outside City Hall to celebrate the launch of the right-to-counsel program.

Tenants can fill out an online form or call a hotline number to get access to a lawyer.

Starting today, Kansas City, Missouri, tenants facing eviction have free access to an attorney, regardless of their income.

The program’s launch comes six months after the Kansas City Council overwhelmingly passed an ordinance guaranteeing free legal representation to tenants in eviction court. Kansas City is the 13th city in the United States with such a program.

Members of KC Tenants, the Missouri Workers Center, Stand Up KC and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom gathered outside City Hall on Wednesday to celebrate the program’s launch and demand that city officials fully implement it. They said the city needs to hire a tenant legal services director and to ensure that all tenants are notified of the program.

Earlier, the city missed some key implementation deadlines and failed to finalize contracts with legal services organizations for attorneys, stirring concern that the program would not be up and running by June 1, as the ordinance specified. Interim Housing Director Jane Brown said at the time that she was overseeing the right-to-counsel program while the city looked for a permanent director.

The city has since entered into four contracts worth $700,000 with legal services organizations to train and hire attorneys to represent tenants.

The attorneys will be provided by the Heartland Center, Legal Aid of Western Missouri and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Fellows Program. The Heartland Center also has a second contract to provide attorney training.

The city has established a call center to provide information on the program to tenants facing eviction in Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass counties. The phone number is (816) 474-5112. Or tenants can fill out a form at the city’s eviction defense website.

Gina Chiala, lead attorney at the Heartland Center, cautioned the program won't resolve every tenant dispute in favor of the tenant — especially if they're unaware of the program.

"There's going to still be a lot of tenants evicted tomorrow," she said. "And those are the tenants who are not going to be in court. They're not going to appear in court and they're going to have default judgments issued against them. And they're going to be evicted. Many of those tenants aren't coming to court because they don't know they have a right to a free lawyer."

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives.
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