Brown School Research Influences New St. Louis Housing Laws

Faculty; Policy

Two new laws in St. Louis will expand housing options for Section 8 renters in the city. Christine Ingrassia of the Board of Aldermen sponsored the measures, which were influenced by recent research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Section 8 renters are highly segregated in low-income communities,” said Molly Metzger, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School, who testified in support of the laws, which took effect this month.

Metzger is a faculty director for inclusive housing research at the Brown School’s Center for Social Development. Her policy brief on Section 8 in St. Louis can be found here.

“These new laws both are steps in the right direction,” Metzger said. “They will provide Section 8 renters with more options so that they are more able choose for themselves where to live.”

Both Charles Bryson, director of the St. Louis Civil Rights Enforcement Agency and Frank Oswald, acting building commissioner, supported the measures. Metzger testified in support of the bills at a Feb. 4 meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee.

Compared with other low-income housing programs such as public housing, the Section 8 housing voucher program is intended to provide more extensive and inclusive housing choices for low-income renters.

Yet Section 8 renters seeking apartments often come up against landlords who are unwilling to accept their vouchers as a form of payment, Metzger said. As a result, Section 8 renters often find themselves with few options. The new laws are intended to change that.

Until now, landlords who receive Section 8 payments had been required to obtain a special “Section 8 Occupancy Permit” from the city, involving numerous inspections not required of other landlords. The first new law, Ordinance 69948, strikes down this requirement, lessening the burden on landlords who participate in the program. Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, co-sponsored the measure.

The second law, Ordinance 69953, provides clearer fair housing protections for Section 8 renters. Now landlords may not have a “No Section 8” policy. While they may reject an application from a Section 8 renter for other reasons, they may not reject a renter only because they use a Section 8 voucher. Reed and Alderman Marlene Davis co-sponsored the measure.