Janeka Haden, MSW ’23, presents on racially restrictive covenant agreements during the Dec. 15 event.
Do a quick internet search about housing in St. Louis and the results are pretty clear. Blaring headlines that the St. Louis area is facing a housing crisis. The issue is particularly stark for Black households, low-income families, and renters.
But this crisis isn’t by happenstance. In the United States and in the St. Louis region specifically, historical policies have led to segregated housing by design. To address the issue, Molly Metzger, a senior lecturer at the Brown School and faculty director for the Center for Social Development, worked with masters of social work students enrolled in her social-policy course to develop a policy briefing book titled, “Welcome Home: A Policy Briefing Book for Housing Opportunity in St. Louis County.” Written by the students and edited by Metzger, the briefing book aims to broaden opportunity by offering ideas for housing policy changes with a particular focus on majority-white, inner-ring suburbs of St. Louis, like Clayton, Kirkwood, Maplewood, Richmond Heights, Rock Hill, Shrewsbury, and Webster Groves.
“Whether we talk about the problem in terms of ‘affordable housing’ or ‘attainable housing’ or ‘workforce housing,’ the bottom line is the same: We do not have the housing to meet the need,” Metzger said. “This problem is particularly acute in the overwhelmingly white parts of our region that use single-family zoning and other practices to self-segregate.” Additionally, she said generational policy decisions in St. Louis County have left those communities less accessible, and less economically and racially diverse.
The briefing book highlights historical and current housing trends and offers four solutions for creating new housing opportunities in St. Louis County.
- Racially Restrictive Covenants: A Story of Segregation, Disinvestments, and Lingering Implications
- Zoning: Issues and Reform
- Advancing Racial Equity Through Community Land Trusts
- Linkage Fees: A Vehicle for Financing Affordable Housing
“These policy solutions are not radical. With our community partners, we tried to craft a policy agenda that would be feasible and would build some momentum in the process,” Metzger explained. She said sharing the history of racism in St. Louis is not to make people feel bad. “For those of us fostering these conversations, it’s not out of self-hatred. It’s not about hatred of any variety. This is about an honest acknowledgment of the harms done by specific policy decisions, in order to motivate action.”
Metzger teaches the social policy course in partnership with Mayor Laura Arnold of Webster Groves, Missouri, Webster Groves’ Alliance for Interracial Dignity, and Women’s Voices Raised for Social justice.
Metzger’s students presented their ideas to a group of community leaders, mayors and city council members at an event held at Washington University in December 2022. Also in the crowd were State Representatives Sarah Unsicker and Deb Lavender. In introductory remarks, Mayor Arnold of Webster Groves rallied the group, “It’s time to take some action!” Arnold noted that part of the problem is that too many residents think the housing crisis someone else’s problem or happening somewhere else, failing to recognize this is happening in our very own communities.
“If a teacher in your school district. If one of your public works employees or if the waiter at your hot new restaurant cannot find housing within your community that community is not complete,” she said. “The people who work in our communities deserve the opportunity to live there as well.”
Metzger said people aren’t powerless over this issue. They can make decisions that have a meaningful impact on communities. They can decide where they live, who they sell their home to, and how they show up as members of their community. While she has yet to see transformative policy change, she does see a growing awareness of the housing crisis and some encouraging first steps.