Members of KC Tenants gather in front of a podium during the rally.
Diane Charity speaks at the Tenant Takeover at Ilus W. Davis Park on Oct. 8. (Mili Mansaray/The Beacon)

Since its creation in 2019, KC Tenants has drafted a Tenants Bill of Rights and secured its passage through the City Council. The group has successfully lobbied for the right of people faced with eviction to be represented by a lawyer. Its members fought against evictions in the pandemic and opposed development deals that give short shrift to affordable housing.

Now members of the impactful tenants union want to flex their collective political muscle.

“The story of Kansas City is corruption,” said Diane Charity, a leader of KC Tenants, during a rally in Ilus Davis Park to announce the launch of KC Tenants Power. The group will focus on educational issues and building political influence. 

“It’s a story of redlining, displacement, evictions, homelessness,” Charity continued. “It’s closed schools, violence, cracked sidewalks, crumbling infrastructure, groceries I can’t afford, sirens day and night. No jobs for my grandkids. No homes for my friends.”

The first priority for the newly founded KC Tenants Power is to convince Kansas City voters to support Question 2 on Missouri’s Nov. 8 general election ballot. That would enable the city to issue up to $50 million in general obligation bond funding over the next five years for a Housing Trust Fund, to increase the city’s supply of affordable housing.

In support of Question 2, KC Tenants Power has vowed to engage in one of the largest door-knocking operations Kansas City has seen. The group also said it would host public listening sessions to learn about residents’ priorities for housing, policing, transportation and other topics. 

KC Tenants Power also said it intends to educate Kansas City residents about future election issues. The group plans to make endorsements in City Council races, issue voter guides for the primary and general elections, and embark on another field program to talk with voters across the city.

“KC Tenants Power is led by tenants organizing to take our city back and house the people,” Charity said. 

KC Tenants want more affordable housing

Though some landlords say that KC Tenants has disrupted the rental market, the group has given voice to hundreds of Kansas Citians who struggle with poverty and housing instability. Its leaders also helped unhoused individuals form a  Homeless Union.   

Still, as rent continues to rise and wages stall, many Kansas Citians live in fear of losing a place to stay. According to Zero KC, the city’s new action plan to end houselessness, more than 41,000 renters make 30% or less of the area median income, but there is a shortage of about 17,000 extremely affordable units. 

“I keep seeing developers come into my neighborhood and build some new shiny buildings,” Denise Brown, a KC Tenants leader, said at the rally. “I think, where in the heck do they plan on moving us to?”

In  August, the Kansas City Council made the controversial decision to alter the affordable housing ordinance for developer incentives in order to attract more developers. Before, developers were required  to make 10% of new developments extremely affordable — meaning for households making 30% of the area median income. 

The requirement for  extremely affordable housing has been eliminated. Instead, 20% of units must now be affordable for households making 60% of the median income, meaning nearly  $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. 

“Our city’s leaders seem so desperate to copy the model of other cities, and that is going to be our downfall,” said Daj Moreland, a leader who spoke at the rally. 

“People in these rooms are making decisions that are literally killing us. And then they’re making us pay for it.”

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MILI MANSARAY is the housing and labor reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. Previously, she was a freelance reporter and Summer 2020 intern.