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Affordable housing report card says St. Louis, St. Louis County need to do better

Lotus Avenue in the Kingsway West neighborhood of St. Louis was mostly white until the "white flight" era of the 1960s and 1970s.
Holly Edgell | St. Louis Public Radio
Many renters in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County pay more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs.

A group of housing organizations has given St. Louis and St. Louis County failing grades on affordable housing for Black households, low-income families and renters.

St. Louis and St. Louis County needs more than 35,000 affordable housing units to provide for Black households, low-income families and renters, according to the St. Louis Affordable Housing Report.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund Coalition, a group of over 30 housing organizations and advocates, published the first-ever report to highlight the gaps in affordable housing and to provide recommendations on ways officials could create new housing opportunities for many households.

In St. Louis and St. Louis County, Black people and low-income families are spending much more than they can afford on housing and discriminatory policies make it difficult to find better housing, said Cristina Garmendia, founder of URBNRX, the organization that created the report.

“While we're not allowed anymore to discriminate on the basis of race, you can discriminate on the basis of income,” Garmendia said. “I think it's really a smokescreen, to continue to discriminate on the basis of race. We're just calling it a different name.”

The report, funded by the Deaconess Foundation, examined housing cost burdens for both renters and homeowners. Households are described as rent or housing cost burdened if renters or homeowners pay more than 30% of their income on rent or mortgage and utilities. Many renters in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County do so, the report found.

Garmendia said more than often Black families pay higher rent or mortgages because of housing disparities. Many Black homeowners cannot obtain mortgages to buy homes or to repair homes to make them affordable living, she said.

Sunni Hutton said the report could help many families receive better housing from St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“I think no matter what level or where you see yourself as a Black person in the city and county of St. Louis, you can actually use this,” said Hutton, director of Blackrock Consulting, a firm that worked on the report. “This is information that you can take, whether you are in a neighborhood association where you can take and start making demands to your alders or to your municipal government.”

The report recommends that city and county officials maintain the quantity of affordable homes by providing more housing vouchers, low-income housing tax credits, Section 8 rental assistance and public housing.

Hutton said that not enough landlords or housing organizations accept housing vouchers in the city and county and that is a huge barrier for people who are in need of housing.

“Your housing voucher is supposed to be accepted everywhere, and it just isn't. And these landlords or larger corporations or property management companies are continuously ignoring that,” Hutton said.

The report also suggests that increasing the number of subsidized and public housing units would improve affordability in the long term.

Hutton believes that improving the quality of homes would make a difference in the lives of families struggling to pay rent.

“If we're talking about policy, a tenant bill of rights here in the city of St. Louis can set a standard for housing quality for everyone so that we all can be good,” Hutton said. “This city has a long history of these old buildings that have lead paint in it … if we can set a standard now for housing quality to attain a bill of rights and make that enforceable, then we can improve the overall health of a significant portion of our population.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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