By Bennette Dibben with Elie Hudson

On Thanksgiving Day of 2012, a fire in my apartment forced me to move out. Thankfully, I had renter’s insurance. This paid for a hotel room. With the fire on my rental history, it was very difficult to find another apartment. Eventually I found an apartment complex and was shown a display unit. I signed a lease. But the actual apartment unit I was to move into was infested with mold. When I brought this to the attention of the property manager, she refused to give my deposit back or break the lease. She said it was my fault. According to her, I should have seen the mold and not signed the lease. For my health, I refused to move into the unit. 

Before I could find an apartment to live in, the insurance coverage for the hotel ran out. I became homeless. A friend gave me a place to stay; otherwise, I would have been living on the street.

I was left financially hurting, without recourse or any way to obtain justice. I did not have something like KC Tenants to help me.

Bennette Dibben of PeaceWorks-KC and Richard Borlaza of Our Revolution Kansas City pause for a picture at City Hall while the City Council considers the Tenant Bill of Rights.

I now know that I am not the only person with this kind of story. Forty-five percent of households in Kansas City, MO, are renters. https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/mo/kansas-city/

In February 2019, a multigenerational, multiracial group of poor and working-class tenants came together to demand safe, accessible, and truly affordable homes for everyone. We call ourselves KC Tenants. In a historically short time, KC Tenants has made housing a key issue in KCMO elections. KC Tenants ran a campaign to win a Tenant Bill of Rights, written by the people closest to the problems. On Dec. 12, the City Council passed a Tenant Bill of Rights, which should ensure protections and enforcement measures for KCMO tenants. 

With a Tenant Bill of Rights, my story would have been different. Before signing a lease, I would have received disclosure of past issues in the unit. I would have known about the mold. I would not have lost thousands of dollars and been displaced. This is not too much to ask for. All of us deserve justice and healing.

In KC Tenants we have learned that “healing is about stepping into your power.” Stepping into your power is about telling your story—turning your pain into power by changing the conditions of what is possible. This is about building a movement in which those who are closest to the problems are the closest to the solution. We are all capable of building this kind of power. Especially when we stand together to fight for what we deserve.

This type of momentum and collective action isn’t just about housing. It’s about knowing that when we fight, we win. When we organize, we are building something bigger than us. 

As a member of PeaceWorks-KC, I know we can apply this to any issue we want, and we can win. To my fellow radicals, I urge you to get involved in your local grassroots organizations. PeaceWorks-KC is anti-war. War affects poor people and people of color more than anyone else, especially in the United States. The money that goes into war can be better spent in our communities. Stand with your communities. Stand with the people who are closest to the solutions. Stand with the working class.

To follow KC Tenants in our journey to bring housing justice to Kansas City and beyond, visit our website at kctenants.org and sign up to receive updates, or email tara@kctenants.org

—Bennette Dibben chairs the PeaceWorks-KC Action Committee; Elie Hudson is a member of KC Tenants.