Housing in Brief: KC Tenants Fighting for Community Control of Affordable Housing Funds

Also: Philly tenants’ rights bill goes into effect, and more.

Protestors in Kansas City, Missouri

Members of KC Tenants at a protest last week (via @KCTenants Twitter)

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Kansas City Tenants Push For Tenant Control Of Affordable Housing Funds

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas is facing backlash from a tenant group who want a seat at the table in spending the city’s housing trust fund. According to the Kansas City Star, the mayor is introducing an ordinance to the city council that would determine how the Kansas City Housing Trust Fund is spent. The fund, which was receiving federal funding before the pandemic, will be bolstered by an additional $25 million in federal pandemic aid, according to the Star.

KC Tenants introduced a Peoples Housing Trust Fund plan in summer of 2021. The plan called for a community advisory board that would oversee the funds, including two representatives from KC Tenants, four representatives from other tenant groups, a representative from a housing provider or shelter, a city councilperson and a representative from Kansas City public schools. The mayor’s proposed ordinance, however, includes no such community board, according to the Star, which accused the mayor of breaking a campaign promise in an editorial. The mayor had agreed to a governing board for the fund with stakeholders from different backgrounds in a 2019 KC tenants questionnaire, the paper said.

Philadelphia Strengthens Rental Protections and Eviction Defense

Two landmark housing reforms are taking effect in Philadelphia. The Renter’s Access Act bans landlords from using credit scores alone to deny tenants. Landlords will have to provide tenants with the full screening criteria that will determine whether they are approved for a unit and can not automatically disqualify prospective tenants because of a credit score or existence of an eviction record, according to the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. While credit scores can’t be the sole criteria for denying a rental application, a tenant’s longer credit history can still be used, as can a criminal record, provided the landlord notes this criteria in writing.

Evictions that are withdrawn, dismissed or four years old can not be cause of denial, nor can evictions that happened after March 2020, unless the landlord claims “violent” criminal activity in the eviction filing. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 30,000 eviction filings between 2015-2020 were either withdrawn or ended with the tenant winning the case, but the landlord’s filing could still legally be used to exclude tenants from housing before Renter’s Access Act was enacted.

And Axios reports that Philadelphia will pilot a Right To Counsel program beginning this winter, offering low-income tenants legal representation in eviction court. Legislation was passed in 2019 and the pilot was set to launch this year but only recently received funding, according to Axios. The 2019 legislation will eventually cover all low-income renters in the city but is planned to phase in over 5 years from when the law passed so funding can be secured, according to Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

Hotel to Housing Conversion Planned For Kalamazoo, Michigan

A former Knights Inn Motel in Kalamazoo will be converted to 60 units of affordable housing intended for people experiencing homelessness. The project is spearheaded by the LIFT Foundation, a Kalamazoo-based non-profit that helps people with low-incomes and people with disabilities access affordable housing. LIFT is crowdfunding the project and has raised about $171,000 so far, with a goal of raising $2.5 million. The project is called “LodgeHouse” and is set to open in April 2022. Next City has reported on many successful hotel-to-housing conversions; this one differs from the others we’ve covered because it is being undertaken by a private developer.

New York Legislators Debate Statewide Basement Legalization

New York’s state assembly held an October 13 hearing looking for solutions to illegal basement conversions, following the death of 11 people in basement apartments across New York City after Hurricane Ida. Assemblyman Harvey Epstein introduced a statewide bill to legalize basement apartments and make them safer, which was also discussed at the hearing. “Without the passage of this bill it would be nearly impossible to build basement apartments and ADUs in New York State,” testified Rema Begum, Associate Director of Programs, Housing Stability, at Chhaya CDC, which supports the bill. As I reported last week, a citywide pilot program to legalize basement apartments was hobbled due to lack of funding.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Tags: new york cityaffordable housingphiladelphiaevictionskansas cityaccessory dwelling unitskalamazoo

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