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ArchCity Defenders offers guides to help St. Louisans with expungement and housing

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
ArchCity Defenders plans to help thousands of people in the St. Louis region who are experiencing housing insecurity or need help navigating the justice system. It released a guide to help renters find adequate and safe housing in Missouri and information on expunging criminal records.

ArchCity Defenders is assisting people this summer in the St. Louis region with expunging their criminal records and housing legal needs.

As part of its Freedom Summer STL series, the civil rights organization released the Expunging Our Criminal Records in Missouri manual and a Guide for Renters Finding and Moving into Housing in Missouri. These thorough guides are empowerment tools that can help people contribute to society and live more fulfilling lives, said Jacki Langum, deputy executive director of ArchCity Defenders.

“We are seeing a huge surge in need for resources more than we ever have in St. Louis,” she said.

The summer series is a campaign to educate people about voting rights, housing resources and legal needs. The group will offer four events over the next few months including voter registration opportunities, free legal clinics, and informational sessions on education, housing and the criminal justice system.

Langum said ArchCity Defenders is receiving more requests for housing-related needs because many tenants do not know their rights. She said many tenants are rushing into leases with landlords or property owners that they are unaware of because they are in a crisis.

The organization created a thorough 32-page pro se document on how to locate housing and find out who owns the property. It also provides information on checking the home's habitability. It includes a list of housing red flags when touring the property and tips on how to read and understand the terms of the lease and ways to negotiate the terms. There is also a checklist for residents to take with them on move-in day.

“A lot of the laws in Missouri are written for landlords or property managers, and so we want tenants to be able to level the playing field,” she said. “This guide that we've created … is a way for them to ask the important questions along the way before they enter into that contract and then to also know how to advocate for themselves and what rights they have once they enter into that lease contract.”

This is the organization's second pro se housing guide. It created an eviction guide in 2021 in response to the rising rates in rent and the increase of evictions after the coronavirus pandemic.

Information on expunging records has become one of ArchCity Defenders’ most received applications. Langum said they often come from people who have incorrectly filled out expungement applications because they could not find information on how to properly fill out court forms.

Changes in Missouri laws make it difficult for people to apply for expungement, said Langum. If there are mistakes on forms, people will have to wait a full year to apply again.

The 16-step manual helps people with criminal records determine whether they are eligible for expungement and how to find the correct forms to apply. It also helps people prepare for a hearing. Because of a new requirement, this guide includes tips on how to redact personal information.

“The Missouri Supreme Court, within the last year, has required redaction of documents to blackout personally identifying information that should be made confidential,” Langum said. “There's no resources out there for anyone to know how and what to redact.”

ArchCity Defenders hopes the expungement and housing guides create conversations among lawmakers about the challenges people with criminal records and renters face when accessing legal or housing resources.

“It's a powerful opportunity for us to communicate information to people in Jefferson City and in local governments to know what laws are in place that are impacting people's ability to have successful, prosperous, full lives,” Langum said.

The next summer series event is at 11 am on June 29 at Northside Center for Power and Transformation at 5939 Goodfellow Blvd.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.