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St. Louis renters facing eviction get the right to an attorney

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
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted Friday to provide tenants facing evictions with an attorney during the process. The program kicks in July 1, 2024.

Individuals facing eviction in St. Louis have gained the right to have an attorney during the process.

Applause broke out in the chambers of the Board of Aldermen on Friday after its members voted to send the measure to Mayor Tishaura Jones by a wide margin. She plans to sign the measure at a later date.

“This legislation does not go after good landlords,” said bill sponsor Shameem Clark Hubbard, the alderwoman of the 10th Ward. “As a matter of fact, right to counsel doesn’t go after landlords at all. It empowers tenants who have been voiceless and taken advantage of.”

The legislation allocates $285,000 in remaining federal COVID relief funds to the Department of Human Services, which will help administer the program. That money, along with $400,000 previously allocated, will be enough to fund the service for a year. Previous versions of the legislation had allocated $5 million for a five-year program.

Board President Megan Green said she hoped lawmakers would appropriate money for the program even after the initial funding expires.

“And there’s also federal funding that has become available the last few years,” Green said. “I know that the mayor’s administration is looking into every possible funding opportunity that exists so that we can continue this program in perpetuity and expand it as we get a better handle on what the need is.”

Attorneys must be available by July 1, 2024, with priority going to tenants in parts of the city with the highest number of evictions. Landlords who file an eviction would have to provide their tenants with information about their right to counsel at the same time.

Four states and a dozen cities have similar right-to-counsel programs. One in Kansas City, Missouri, had served nearly 1,200 tenants as of March.

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus of the 12th Ward was the lone no vote. She said it would tip the playing field against small landlords.

“When you have a grandmother, or a person who is of less income, and they don’t have the ability to hire an attorney, and then they show up and the opposing people have attorneys that were provided by their tax dollars, that is not fair,” she said.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.