American metropolitan areas continue to show high levels of residential segregation by race, ethnicity, and social class, and the St. Louis metro area is no exception. The Section 8 housing voucher program is one possible vehicle for challenging this pattern of segregation, by providing low-income individuals and families with financial support to broaden their housing options.

With more than two million households receiving assistance, the Section 8 voucher program is the largest housing subsidy for low-income Americans. Unlike other housing subsidies, Section 8 vouchers are typically tied to the renter, not to a specific housing unit. Renters receiving a voucher can shop for housing in the private rental market rather than being assigned to a specific apartment. Those who use a voucher typically pay 30 percent of their income toward their rent and the voucher makes up the difference.

Our recent research has shown that Section 8 renters are more likely to live in low-income communities – and to be excluded from relatively white communities – compared to unsubsidized low-income households. In the St. Louis region, this means that vouchers are used disproportionately in North City and North County. Many Section 8 renters are happy and proud to live in these areas of the St. Louis region, but many would prefer to live elsewhere. The Section 8 program must be improved to achieve its goals of reducing segregation and increasing real housing choice for low-income families.

Earlier this year, St. Louis city passed two important laws to improve the Section 8 program. One law repealed special inspections for landlords renting through the Section 8 program. Without these added inspections, it is now easier for landlords to participate in the program, which will hopefully increase the number of landlords accepting Section 8 vouchers and thereby increase the housing choices of voucher recipients.

The second law clarified our local fair housing law to provide explicit protections for Section 8 renters. It is now unlawful for a landlord in St. Louis to have a “No Section 8” policy. This law only applies in the city (for now), but it applies regardless of whether the renter received their voucher from the St. Louis Housing Authority or the Housing Authority of St. Louis County.

Provided that the cost of rent falls under the Fair Market Rent level that the program will cover, landlords in the City of St. Louis must now proceed with prospective Section 8 renters in the same way they proceed with any other prospective renter. Likewise, once a voucher recipient moves in, the landlord must treat that tenant the same as any other tenant.

St. Louis’s new fair housing law provides Section 8 renters with legal recourse in the event that discrimination occurs, including Section 8 renters who are put out of their home because their landlord wishes to terminate his or her participation with the program.

Now that St. Louis City has led the way with these important fair housing protections, the next step is to pass them in St. Louis County and the state of Missouri. Full protection against housing discrimination should extend to all Missourians.

If you believe you have been discriminated against in housing based on your voucher or any other protected category (race, color, national origin, familial status, disability, sex, religion, source of income, sexual orientation, or gender identity), the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council (EHOC) can help. EHOC seeks to ensure equal access to housing and places of public accommodation for all people through education, counseling, investigation, and enforcement.  

To reach EHOC, you can call 1-800-555-3951 or 314-534-5800, file a complaint at EHOCSTL.org, or mail in forms to EHOC, 1027 S. Vandeventer Ave. (6th floor), St. Louis, MO 63110.

Molly Metzger is an assistant professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University and a board member at EHOC. Andrew Brown is a recent graduate of the Brown School.

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(7) comments

REALIST

WHAT????? Look out Ladue, Town & Country, etc...... Section 8 housing coming to a home near you!!!!!!!!!! Wont those properties be eye appealing in 10 years!!!

ogel

NOSPINFTL,

You can post all of the facts and statistics you desire, but you will NOT put a "spin" on the contents of this article.

The most important point that should be made here is that if there is a problem with the rules that govern the Section 8 Program, sufficient to warrant a change in the actual rules that govern the application of that Program, why is it that the rules that are being changed are NOT being changed in St. Louis County? How do you justify stating that the rules are bad for Section 9 resident in the City, but not of equal concern for those living in the county?

Is there no equal protection under the law?

ogel

NOSPINFTL posted: "The days of the lifetime entitlements are coming to an end people, you better see the writing on the wall. "

..............................are you saying they are going to close all of the tax loopholes for the rich too?

NOSPINFTL

Eliminate Section 8 vouchers. The bill provides $10.6 billion for project-based rental assistance and $19.9 billion for tenant-based rental programs for FY 2016. The spending levels are $1.54 billion more than current funding.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides rental assistance to low-income individuals in various ways, including both project-based and tenant-based programs. While project-based vouchers provide subsidies to housing project owners, tenant-based vouchers provide subsidies to private landlords. The Housing Choice Vouchers program, commonly referred to as Section 8 vouchers, is the main tenant-based subsidy. HUD distributes nearly twice as much for Section 8 vouchers as it does for project-based rental assistance.

More than $18 billion is budgeted for Section 8 voucher renewal. In general, Section 8 vouchers are limited to families with incomes at or less than 50 percent to (in some cases) 80 percent of the median income for their county or metropolitan areas. Recipients pay approximately 30 percent of their income toward rent, and the government-provided voucher pays the difference between that figure and the gross rent to a private landlord.[6] HUD’s own research has shown that, overall, Section 8 vouchers have had no beneficial effect on self-sufficiency and welfare dependency.[7] This finding is not surprising given that no time limits are associated with the voucher program, thus lowering families’ incentive to stop relying on the subsidies.

Congress should place time limits on Section 8 voucher payments so that the program provides only a temporary benefit.[8]

NOSPINFTL

These Housing Authorities and "advocates" need to pay attention to the news more. The FY 2016 Transportation and Housing budget is cutting Section 8 vouchers, another 28,000 to be eliminated on top of the 70,000 eliminated from the sequester. These vouchers will not be restored. This program, along with most of HUD's programs are on the chopping block and at this point there is no reason to believe they wont be. The Republican majority in both houses of congress have already stated that they will change the Section 8 voucher program to a "time limited" benefit of no more than 24 months. The days of the lifetime entitlements are coming to an end people, you better see the writing on the wall.

REALIST

WHAT????? Look out Ladue, Town & Country, etc...... Section 8 housing coming to a home near you!!!!!!!!!! Wont those properties be eye appealing in 10 years!!!

ogel

The Section 8 Program does nothing to reduce segregation, it promotes it. The recent change in the law that repeal special inspections for landlords is no more than a license for slumlords who will simply invest in more properties in these "no expection required" areas.

If, in fact, this change in law is really designed to combat discrimination, how do you justify not having it in St. Louis County?

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