An elaborate weekend celebration is still to come for Kansas City’s newly-inaugurated mayor, Quinton Lucas, but he spent his first night on the job in an East Side town home where tenants wanted him to listen to their struggles and talk about housing.
Lucas, 34, who grew up on the city’s East Side, often moving or staying in motels when his family was homeless, made affordable housing a tenet of his mayoral campaign. Before his inauguration Thursday, he served four years on the City Council as chairman of the Housing Committee.
Now, he has the chance to follow through on some big promises, including a $75 million fund for affordable housing and a tenants’ bill of rights. And the city’s tenants want to make sure he knows just what issues they’re facing.
“All we’re wanting to do is basically assure that tenants get treated just as well as landlords do,” said Nichole Fowler, who added she wanted to see “decent places to live for a decent price” in Kansas City.
Lucas stayed Thursday night at the town home where Fowler and her two sons live. He said he promised to do so after visiting with them during the campaign. His then-opponent, Jolie Justus, did the same with another tenant in the city. All of them are leaders in the newly-formed KC Tenants advocacy group.
“You kinda get to learn more when you spend real time with people,” Lucas said. “You see the positives. You see the challenges. And I figured, it’s better for me rather than just kind of getting a drive-by view of it to say, ‘All right, let’s see what it’s like for a night.’”
When Fowler and her children moved back from Kentucky a couple of years ago, they struggled to find a place because of a previous eviction. They stayed in a motel for more than a year.
Eventually, they found their town home near 23rd Street and Interstate 435. But it hasn’t been easy.
When Fowler and her family moved in in February, they had no hot water and no working stove for weeks, they said. When their refrigerator broke, they had to keep food and her son Alex Anderson’s insulin outside in the cold, but the freezing temperatures ruined one vile, which they had to throw away.
Their maintenance problems, they say, typically fall on deaf ears.
Anderson said when they first moved into the house he reported a loose hand rail on the stairs and nothing was done about it. One day, Fowler, who is disabled, said she slipped trying to catch her young son and the handrail broke loose, causing her to fall.
A pile of mattresses sits outside their home and has for months, they said.
Tara Raghuveer, the KC Tenants group founder, said tenants “need Mayor Quinton Lucas to fight for them and to be accountable to them.”
“As Quinton Lucas begins his mayoral term, it is critical that he remains deeply grounded by the experiences of people who are directly impacted by Kansas City’s housing emergency,” she said.
Asked about his visit at a news conference Friday, Lucas said he anticipated doing other forms of direct engagement as mayor.
“I though it was an outstanding opportunity to talk to a number of people in the neighborhood...about the issues facing them, how we need to create more affordable, quality healthy housing in our city in the future,” Lucas said.