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St. Louis justice organizations hope town hall on housing leads to tenant-led movement

Action St. Louis
The St. Louis Housing Defense Collective, including Action St. Louis, protested outside of St. Louis City Hall last August to demand city officials rapidly release rental aid assistance to people who are facing eviction.

Two community justice organizations plan to meet today with renters in the St. Louis region to gather input that could help start a tenant-led movement for equitable housing.

ArchCity Defenders and Action St. Louis will hold a 6 p.m. renters town hall at the Harrison Education Center, 3140 Cass Ave., St. Louis. Leaders of the two groups want to hear tenants discuss housing conditions in the region.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many renters have struggled to find stable housing, experienced poor living conditions or been at risk of evictions, and some have lost their homes, said Kennard Williams, lead organizer for Action St. Louis.

The town hall could explore how renters can help spark change, he said.

“We really want to provide space for renters to talk about what they're dealing with and how we can get some changes going and what changes need to be made.”

Williams said a tenant-led movement, similar to the Kansas City tenant union, could help build momentum in the region and push local officials to provide better housing and support for those in need.

Some renters often complain to Williams about landlords who refuse to keep up their properties and finding immediate rental assistance.

“As the pandemic ramped up, we've seen across the board a lack of response from property management companies and landlords, and it results in people living in these terrible conditions,” Williams said. “There has been a lot of difficulties with getting funds out to people as fast as we need to, to intercept the courts towards homelessness.”

The two social justice organizations aim to keep renters at the center of any conversations about housing. Attendees will have a chance to meet in small groups to talk about their experiences and collaborate on ideas that could help build a housing movement.

Having people talk about their housing experiences before the pandemic and during is a way to shift the power back to the community and help hold local officials accountable, said Lee Camp, ArchCity Defenders senior attorney.

“If we don't look at that moment and try to change the way we move forward, then we're really not learning from the experience that we've unfortunately all had to go through,” Camp said.

Rental assistance counselors will be available to help those at risk of losing their homes. Child care services also will be available so families can engage in the meeting. Camp and other attorneys will set aside time to meet individually with renters.

"There was a housing crisis before this pandemic. There's still a housing crisis now,” Camp said. “It is certainly the time that we really get together and start to work on these issues, because people are hurting out there.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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

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