KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, City Council approved an ordinance Thursday called "Tenants' Right to Counsel" that will provide free legal assistance to renters fighting eviction.
"It will also benefit and provide fairness in the system for everyone for tenants and landlords because it provides some professionalism and balance in the justice system," said Councilmember Andrea Bough. "It's an unfair situation right now because property owners are overwhelmingly represented by attorneys and tenants are not."
According to Bough, attorneys providing legal assistance will come from nonprofits, not the city, and the program will be paid with federal money initially. Long term, the city manager will be tasked with finding recurring non-discretionary funding to keep the program in operation.
"It gives you hope to know that you're not alone, that you're not having to fight this battle alone," said Ruby Watson.
Watson said she was evicted from her home when she lost her job.
"I moved in with my daughter, and now I actually have a place, but that still took a while because once you get that eviction on your record, no one wants to rent to you," she said.
Watson works with KC Tenants, a group that advocates for renters. She said it's important for people to remember that a housing crisis can impact anyone.
Not everyone is thrilled with the ordinance.
"Unconstitutional overreaching of our taxpayer dollars and the city weighing in, taking the side from one citizen against another in a civil lawsuit," said Stacey Johnson-Cosby, KC Regional Housing Alliance representative.
KC Regional Housing Alliance advocates for housing providers.
"It's a waste of taxpayer dollars to fund an attorney that can't do anything but delay the inevitable," Johnson-Cosby said. "We need to use those resources for rental assistance to help the tenant pay for the rent."
Johnson-Cosby said the city council's latest move has her looking to sell her properties and move out of the city.
"It is not friendly to housing providers. It's a hostile environment for us," she said.
Bough said the program is expected to cost around $2.5 million each year. And according to the ordinance, nonprofit legal representation will begin June 1, 2022.