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St. Louis County Council May Bar Landlords From Rejecting Tenants With Federal Subsidies

St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy (left) and County Councilman Ernie Trakas (center) both have proposals to change the county's panhandling regulations.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Council member Lisa Clancy is seeking to bar property owners in unincorprated St. Louis County from barring tenants because of their source of income.

Members of the St. Louis County Council are mulling whether to prohibit the rejection of tenants because of how they earn their money.

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy introduced legislation to add source of income to the county’s fair housing codes. Currently, property owners cannot discriminate or turn anyone away from applying on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Clancy, D-Maplewood, said the proposal would not only apply to people who get federal subsidies, such as Section 8 housing vouchers, but also people who are dependent on Social Security or veterans benefits.

“There’s a lot of reasons why someone could turn them down,” Clancy said. “But it can’t be solely because they are on an alternative source of lawful income or, like is already true, their race, gender or sexual orientation.”

The legislation would only apply to the county’s unincorporated areas. Clancy, though, said other cities around the county are considering similar legislation.

“Honestly, I’ve heard this doesn’t go far enough. I wish I could do this for all of St. Louis County, including municipalities. We can’t do that. It’s beyond the jurisdiction we have,” Clancy said. “I’m actually proud to say that there’s quite a few municipalities that are working on this in my own district. And I think the county has a real opportunity to lead the way here. I don’t think we need to wait for each other.”

Clancy said the legislation was a recommendation of the county’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund Task Force, which was formed last year. One of the people who served on that task force was Will Jordan of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.

During a recent county council meeting in late April, Jordan said there’s a common misconception that people with Section 8 vouchers will be bad tenants.

“It’s very difficult to get a housing voucher,” Jordan said. “And when people get them, they don’t lose them. So one of the things that would make you lose them is bad habits like not following through with your contract with your landlord. Bad behavior. So the last thing you want to do is lose it.

“So the better tenant you’re going to get is the one that’s on the Section 8 voucher, because that is gold,” he added.

Other speakers, though, were more negative about Clancy’s proposal. Florissant resident Mark Bellman said that he was worried the law would hoist too much red tape upon landlords.

“I am not opposed or support the proposition,” Bellman said. “I just want you to be careful about what you’re doing on mandating the mom and pops, the people that can’t sell their house. The folks that have no other choice but to rent it out. And if by forcing them to go with Section 8, it may not be in your best interest.”

Asked about comments such as Bellman’s, Clancy said that some public speakers “mentioned a lot of the bureaucracy that’s involved with inspections and that sort of thing with accepting folks who have housing choice vouchers.”

“I don’t dispute that’s an issue and there’s reforms that need to be made on lots of levels,” Clancy said. “Fortunately there are local resources, nonprofit resources and other things that help to alleviate some of those constraints and burdens on landlords. I think this is an important step in the right direction.”

Next steps

Members of the council have yet to vote on Clancy’s proposal. She said in late April she didn’t want to rush the bill through, adding “there are lot of people I want to listen to and talk to about this issue.”

Two people in particular who could be critical to passing Clancy’s bill are Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-South St. Louis County, and Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack. Both of those council members represent large swaths of unincorporated south St. Louis County. And Trakas has publicly expressed concerns about the legislation.

Even before Councilwoman Hazel Erby announced her resignation, Clancy’s legislation still needed Republican buy-in to be sent to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. That’s because four votes are required to pass any bill. Republicans now hold a 3-2 majority until a likely August special election fills two vacancies.

Before he became county executive, Page said in a tweet to both Clancy and Trakas “let’s work together to address housing discrimination in a way that works best for the unique circumstances of STL County.”

"As Sam has stated before, he believes the bill proposed by Councilwoman Clancy would finally address housing discrimination based on source of income," said Page spokesman Doug Moore. "And I know that Councilwoman Clancy continues to seek input from the community and other council members to bring forward the best legislation possible."

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.