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Efforts to protect renters using Section 8 vouchers to continue in University City

University City lions at city hall (2010)
File photo | Rachel Heidenry | St. Louis Beacon
University City lions at city hall (2010)

Fair housing advocates in University City are planning to bring back a bill the City Council killed this week. The proposal would have protected people who use Section 8 vouchers from discrimination.

Had it passed, the bill would have made the municipality the second in the St. Louis region to ban housing discrimination based on a renter’s source of income.

“We’re disappointed,” said Glenn Burleigh, a community engagement specialist at the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council who helped create the bill. "University City has always touted itself as being extremely progressive and pushing forward toward integration, [but] has not taken the charge from the Ferguson Commission and helped moved us forward here.”

A map of University City's three Wards.
Credit Provided by University City
A map of University City's three Wards.

In its Forward through Ferguson report in October 2015, the Ferguson Commission issued a call to action for the entire state of Missouri to institute “fair housing protections” by banning discrimination by source of income. St. Louis City is the only municipality to date that has passed an ordinance with the protections.

Jaclyn Kirouac-Fram is a University City resident and a member of the Human Relations Commission that created the bill. She says landlords can decide not to accept many types of incomes like alimony or disability checks. But the bill primarily targets landlords who discriminate against renters using government funded housing vouchers, commonly known as “Section 8”.

For example, in University City (and most parts of the St. Louis region) landlords can specify “no Section 8” in their rental ads. That's even if their property is listed in a price range eligible for housing vouchers. Kirouac-Fram says this is the type of language the bill was designed to prohibit.

“I think that everybody should have the opportunity to at least present themselves as a viable candidate for rental property,” Kirouac-Fram said. “[Saying] ‘no Section 8’ effectively classifies a certain group of people in a negative light for no other reason than the fact that they have a voucher.”

Burleigh said he called a number of landlords across University City when researching the bill. In the 3rd Ward, north of Olive street, he found a large number of rental properties in the price range for housing choice vouchers. Section 8 was widely accepted by landlords in that ward.  

“But in the 2nd Ward, which is closer to the Delmar Loop, we found a number of advertised apartments that were within the price range for folks [with] a Section 8 voucher, and we had zero landlords that said they would accept it,” Burleigh said.

“We think that's a problem,” Burleigh continued. “What that’s doing is concentrating folks into one part of town, it’s reducing their choice of where to live within the city and it’s being done in a way that’s not because it’s costing landlords money, but because they’re refusing to take a specific kind of government assistance even though they accept others.”

Kirouac-Fram suggested that the bill died because of misconceptions among University City landlords about how the city would enforce it. The final version of the bill brought to the City Council this week had no penalties written into it.

On Monday, 1st Ward City Council member Terry Crow said the council’s decision not to vote on the bill doesn't mean its members support discrimination.

“I always worry when we paint with such a broad brush to talk about discrimination and whether some are protected and some are not,” Crow said. “I think we may disagree on how we get there, but I think far too often our speakers at times paint with a broad brush with an intent to make sure that the picture looks a little bit different than it actually is.”

The Human Relations Commission is planning more public meetings on the issue in the spring, and intend to bring the bill back next year.

“I think the policy will be just as right today as is was before the vote,” Burleigh said. “We hope that the University City council really looks hard at itself and says let’s do the right thing here.”

Follow Jenny Simeone on Twitter @jnnsmn