Missouri Law Undermines Equity in Housing and Education
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development extends deadline to May
In 2017, legislation passed in Missouri that weakened the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), making it more difficult to prove discrimination. The modification to the MHRA by Senate Bill 43 formed the basis of the NAACP’s first ever statewide travel advisory against Missouri, and was cited as a key reason why the state is on Fodor’s Travel Guide’s 2018 “No List” of places not to visit. In addition to lost tourism dollars, it was made public last year that Senate Bill 43 could also cost the state $500,000 in federal funds.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has since informed the office of Governor Eric Greitens that the bill “impermissibly limits remedies available to victims of housing discrimination.” Missouri must realign state and federal policies on discrimination by May 2018 if it wants to continue participating in the Fair Housing Assistance Program. In St. Louis, cuts to the program would weaken protections against housing discrimination by forcing the layoff of fair housing investigators, who investigate claims of housing discrimination. Across the state, the changes in how housing discrimination cases are handled could also leave rural areas vulnerable.
Protecting buyers and renters from discriminatory practices that limit their access to quality housing and neighborhoods is not a new challenge for St. Louis. Considered one of the nation’s most segregated cities, St. Louis is known for pioneering practices like redlining and racially-restrictive covenants. In 2015, reports emerged that St. Louis landlords were discriminating against home-seekers with government vouchers. Investigators also reported that the primarily African-American voucher holders were “steered” toward certain neighborhoods, reflecting a nationally documented practice that often reinforces segregation. In 2017, St. Louis housing advocates also found problems with handicap accessibility, illegal evictions, and policies that potentially jeopardize housing access for victims of domestic violence.
When fair housing investigators ensure that a home-seeker does not experience discrimination, they do more than just safeguard access to housing. Neighborhoodconditions impact everything from housing stock to healthcare access; living in quality neighborhoods affects health and economic outcomes across generations. In St. Louis, where more than 1 in 5 public school students are homeless, neighborhood access is also deeply connected to a child’s access to a quality education. Children without stable housing are prone to absenteeism, lack appropriate study spaces, and frequently change schools, making academic success incredibly difficult. There is evidence of a correlation between frequent residential displacement and poor educational outcomes such as grade retention, lower high school graduation rates, and lower knowledge acquisition over time.
Today, local data shows that race, student performance, concentration of poverty, and school accreditation are all highly correlated. The quality of schools that students attend is often directly related to where they live, their race, or both. More than ever, discrimination-free access to quality neighborhoods and stable housing is a prerequisite for a good education, much in the way education is now understood to be perhaps “the single most important modifiable social determinant of health.” According to Gary Parker, director of the Clark–Fox Policy Institute, “Compromising the ability to enforce fair housing could have far reaching impacts that undermine the ability of families to access quality homes, neighborhoods and schools – and not just in the St. Louis region, but for the entire state.”
According to a recent news story, Missouri must repeal the bill or alter some of its provisions by May 15, or HUD will withdraw Missouri’s fair housing agencies from the Fair Housing Assistance Program, thus cutting off a critical source of funding. For more information about the legislation: http://ehocstl.org/wp-content/
Yang, S., Parker, G., Thurman, A. (2018). Missouri Law Undermines Equity in Housing and Education, St. Louis, MO: The Clark–Fox Policy Institute, Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.