Each community has its own characteristics and structures. However, evidence-based housing solutions can be effective in any setting. Most, if not all, may also be implemented from either the bottom up or the top down to take advantage of an area’s relative strengths. As an example, Kansas City unanimously adopted its first-ever tenant’s Bill of Rights last week as part of a larger policy shift.
A tenant’s Bill of Rights is a housing policy solution that can positively impact both access to and sustainability of housing. This type of housing solution was also highlighted in a 2018 toolkit released by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services (CSS). The toolkit complemented the three-part report series on local evictions produced by UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and funded by CSS.
The CSS Toolkit proposes a holistic perspective on a tenant Bill of Rights, with measures to support both tenants and landlords. The intent is to underline the importance of the tenant-landlord relationship: “…Strong landlord-tenant relationships can lay the foundation for solutions that can bring real change.” This blog post provides an overview of this housing solution and what it could mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
A TIER 1 HOUSING SOLUTION
According to Launch Upstream: Homelessness Prevention in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, prevention assistance is defined as a category of housing assistance targeting households facing near-term housing instability but who have not yet lost their housing. Prevention assistance exists along a continuum and can be grouped into three tiers. Tier 1 efforts focus on system-level changes in funding, policy, programming, and education. Implementing and strengthening landlord-tenant laws is one example that can produce a community-wide change.
EDUCATION & SUPPORT
The adopted Kansas City ordinance includes a tenant’s Bill of Rights; the Bill of Rights has components which target two primary areas: education and support. The first component was a compilation and distillation of existing local, state and federal law, thereby providing a single, comprehensive list of the rights already afforded to tenants. The second component provides support by requiring that landlords provide one day’s notice prior to entering leased properties; it also mandates that landlords must provide prospective tenants with a means to get a utility estimate for a property. Landlords must also give each tenant or prospective tenant a copy of the tenant’s Bill of Rights. Importantly, the new ordinance prevents landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants solely because of an eviction history or prior arrest or conviction.
For past three consecutive fiscal years, formal eviction filings in Charlotte-Mecklenburg have increased, up 12% from FY18 to FY19. Prevention assistance is a cost-effective intervention that communities can employ across the housing continuum. Prevention targets households facing housing instability, as well as households who have recently regained their housing, to ensure that they can stay in their homes.
As highlighted by the recent efforts in Kansas City, which were led by a local grassroots group, communities can create system change by adopting a Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights should be relevant to the community’s needs and strengths; it should integrate the needs and rights of both tenants and landlords; and, at minimum, should consider ensuring access to quality, affordable, safe housing; options for legal representation; and education on both party’s rights and responsibilities. Done well, housing policy and court processes can and must support both landlords and tenants; Kansas City shows us one possible path to an outcome that is fair and equitable to all.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.