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Fair housing conference panelists focus on reducing evictions in metro St. Louis

One of the topics of the 2018 Fair Housing Conference was on finding was to reduce the number of evictions in St. Louis.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio

At the 2018 Fair Housing conference in St. Louis, panelists on Wednesday discussed ways to reduce the number of evictions in St. Louis, using community-centered initiatives.

The issue is examined in the report, "Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide," completed by For the Sake of All and the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council. The report focuses on ways to eliminate housing discrimination with St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The conference at UMSL commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

“In 2016, we did an analysis just in the city of St. Louis and we found that the overwhelming majority of people in the city of St. Louis who were going through eviction were unrepresented,” Kalila Jackson, a senior staff attorney for the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, said.

Read the Report | Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide

Without legal representation, tenants lose in court most of the time, Jackson said. A community-based, social service support system is one of the programs that the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council hopes will help tenants before an eviction lawsuit is filed. The organization is also focusing on ways to prevent the illegal evictions of tenants.

“This deprives the tenants from any right to defend against allegations brought by a landlord,” said Lee Camp, a staff attorney for ArchCity Defenders. “It also puts a family in an immediate emergency situation where they can lose all of their belongings quickly, they can face health care emergencies as a result of this and then they truly do fall immediately into homelessness.”

The effects of nuisance ordinances were also discussed during the session. Jackson said they target specific groups of people disproportionately.

RELATED | Nuisance or Nonsense? We Live Here Podcast

“Nuisance ordinances historically have been used to address public crises,” Jackson said. “What we have seen happen is that municipal governments are using nuisance ordinances to target so called ‘problem people.’ Problem people may mean people who have even minor criminal offenses, to strategies that have been used overtly to target protected classes, specifically racial minorities, and victims of domestic violence.”

According to the Eviction Lab, a program that tracks evictions and eviction rates, there were 3,138 evictions in St. Louis in 2016. St. Louis ranks 40th out of 100 cities in total number of evictions for that year.

Follow Chad Davis on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.