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St. Louis is looking to update many of its housing policies to prioritize tenants

Board of Aldermen President Megan Green speaks at a housing town hall in north St. Louis.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Board of Aldermen President Megan Green speaks at a housing town hall in north St. Louis on Thursday. She expects many more bills to help tenants will be filed when the board returns to session in mid-September.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is looking to continue its push to update city policies around housing when its members return from break in mid-September.

The board has already passed legislation establishing the right to counsel for St. Louis renters facing eviction and proposed new regulations for short-term rentals, like those with AirBnB or Vrbo.

Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said the city’s legislative body is ready to continue to introduce and pass bills designed to help tenants in St. Louis. She cited a tenant bill of rights that’s being worked on, as well as legislation to create a rental registry.

“One of the challenges we’ve had in the city for a long time is we can’t get in contact with problematic landlords,” Green said. “A lot of times properties are registered to out of town LLCs that then only have a P.O. box. So when there’s issues, it’s very difficult to be able to track someone down and have a conversation.”

The registry would require that landlords in St. Louis provide a local contact to the city for properties they rent out, she said. Another piece of this legislation, which has not yet been introduced, would create a fund to help tenants who must leave their apartment if the city determines the unit isn’t safe, Green added.

“It’s often on the tenant to pay those relocation fees,” she said.

The proposed registry would also help the city collect data on rents in specific parts of the city, something it doesn’t do now, Green said. She argues this information will help the city make better decisions about which development projects to improve.

“So maybe it’s not market rate housing that’s needed (in a specific neighborhood), maybe it’s affordable housing that’s needed,” she said.

It comes at a time when the city faces a housing shortage, Green said.

It’s also when many St. Louis renters are faring worse than they were before or during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Action St. Louis organizing manager Kennard Williams.

“What we’ve seen now is we have no moratoriums to protect renters,” he said. “And now we have no funding streams, such as the rental assistance to protect renters.”

During the health emergency, families used pandemic assistance to help with rent when they may have lost income, Williams said.

“We’re still seeing a lot of those same things, except now things are more expensive,” he said. “That same rent they were getting assistance for is more expensive, and they don’t have the assistance for that.”

Higher rents are squeezing St. Louisans, Williams said. He argues that issues of affordable housing and homelessness in St. Louis are linked and deserve to be tackled together.

“All it takes is a little bit of income disruption to put somebody on the street or to cause somebody to get evicted,” Williams said. “When you have a spiral that gets started like that, it continues on top of people.”

There’s legislation to be introduced soon that seeks to also address some of the city’s challenges with unhoused populations, Green said.

“The Board of Aldermen will be pursuing an unhoused bill of rights,” she said. “We are hoping to have that passed before the winter months.”

Green also said she wants to see a bill to create safe camping areas in the city.

“We know that not all people are ready to go into housing on the day that we maybe want them to go into housing,” she said. “And that means we have to provide a variety of options.”

These provisions will likely drive conversations and debate at the board once it returns to session, Green said. She added that she expects the bills more focused on renters are likely to pass.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.