Groups pushing for more tenant protection as evictions will resume in Jackson Co. on June 1

Jackson County Courthouse
Posted at 5:28 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 19:39:25-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A moratorium on evictions in Jackson County, Missouri will lift on June 1, and tenants rights organizations say people are still in a bind and are pushing for more protections.

Gina Chiala with the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom stood outside the courthouse on Thursday, trying to connect people facing eviction to services.

"What we're hoping to do is expand our services so that we can provide formal representation to tenants in court because there's nothing that beats that," Chiala said.

The Heartland Center is asking the city council to approve an ordinance that would provide $65,000 dollars to hire an attorney.

Their services would cover those who don't qualify for Legal Aid's help.

"We're able to accept people who make a little more money than those in poverty but those people still can't afford legal counsel, so they need representation," Chiala said.

Both groups would represent about 300 tenants facing eviction. According to the ordinance's fact sheet, that is just 22 percent of the anticipated number of people who go to eviction court.

The Heartland Center could also represent immigrants, where Legal Aid is limited.

Chiala took part in Thursday's KC Tenants virtual news conference, where they rolled out their new list of demands aimed to protect tenants struggling during the pandemic.

They want the city to:

  • Cancel rent and forgive debts
  • Extend the eviction ban
  • Pass a tenants' right-to-an-attorney ordinance
  • Ban utility shutoffs
  • Provide housing for those who are homeless or facing homelessness
  • Ban source-of-income discrimination

Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, said extending an eviction ban is just kicking the can down the road because fees and interest would still be accruing.

"So that's why we're calling on the mayor and the city council to make available funds for property owners incentivizing them to make a deal with their tenants that would forgive all past owed debt from the beginning of March," Raghuveer said.

Mayor Quinton Lucas showed support for the requests, and said using readily available federal CARES Act funds would address each of them.

"We have about $160 million sitting in the Kansas City, Mo. counties that's meant to help people," Lucas said. "Zero of those dollars are helping any of the people we've identified."

Lucas said nothing is standing in the way of using the money except the county and city council's inaction.

On Monday, the mayor went before they county legislature requesting more than $54 million in CARES Act funding, $10 million of which would go toward housing assistance for both tenants and landlords.

A spokesperson for the Jackson County courts said the eviction trials taking place are backlogged cases from mid-March, before COVID-19 put a halt to everything.

Since the courthouse was shutdown, landlord tenant hearings have continued via video or teleconference. Monday was the first day in-person hearings and trials resumed.

New cases have been filed since the pandemic started.

The court spokesperson said the courts filed far less landlord tenant cases in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

April 2019
Rent & Possession: 522
Landlord Complaint: 110
Unlawful Detainer: 93

April 2020
Rent & Possession: 116
Landlord Complaint: 24
Unlawful Detainer: 41

Congress is considering the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion bill, that includes $100 billion in rental assistance. It would also enact a year-long ban on evictions, provide 100,000 housing vouchers, and $75 billion for homeowners assistance. The House voted to pass the bill, and is now with the Senate.