St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Feds suspend St. Louis from housing program after Missouri loosens discrimination laws

JEFFERSON CITY • The federal agency in charge of the Fair Housing Assistance Program has suspended St. Louis from participating, a result of Missouri’s rewrite last year of the state’s discrimination laws.

The move was expected. In a July 14 letter last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wrote to Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration that the signing of Senate Bill 43, which makes it harder to sue for discrimination, made Missouri’s law no longer “substantially equivalent” to federal law, a requirement for participation in the program.

Bryan Greene, HUD general deputy assistant secretary, wrote that Missouri must tweak its new law to meet federal rules by March 1 to continue participating in the Fair Housing Assistance Program. The money that Missouri would lose out on would help reimburse the state for housing discrimination investigations. 

The GOP-controlled Legislature has so far opted not to change the law this year. So on March 3, Anna Maria Farías, the assistant secretary for fair housing, wrote to the St. Louis Civil Rights Enforcement Agency notifying it that the city’s participation in the program would be suspended through May 15.

Reacting to the news, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, told the Post-Dispatch the new law was “detrimental” and should be repealed.

“But I don’t hear that there’s any appetite for that,” she said.

Agatha Gutierrez, spokeswoman for HUD, said other agencies in Missouri — such as the Missouri Human Rights Commission and the Kansas City Human Relations Department — have “most likely” faced similar suspensions.

The state could lose out on $600,000 in federal funds, according to HUD.

In a statement, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which oversees the human rights commission, indicated that federal funding had been suspended. Still, the agency said that “no Missourians will lose any services as a result of this decision. The MCHR will continue to enforce state housing laws and refer other housing cases to HUD to ensure no Missourian goes unserved.”

The law in question was one of the most controversial pieces of legislation during the 2017 legislative session.

The measure caps the amount of money housing discrimination victims can receive from winning a lawsuit, and included a provision that plaintiffs prove a landlord or bank intentionally denied them housing solely based on their race, sex or other protected status to win a case.

In his July letter, Greene writes that the caps improperly “limit the remedies available to victims of housing discrimination.” 

He also said the law removes provisions of previous state law prohibiting retaliation against victims of housing discrimination and requires victims to pursue administrative remedies before filing a civil lawsuit.

The law also raises the bar for plaintiffs who sue for workplace discrimination, requiring plaintiffs to prove their protected status was a “motivating factor” in their mistreatment, not simply a “contributing factor.”

The law also removed protections for whistleblowers in state government. A proposal by Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, which would restore those protections, is pending before the Senate.

Several other proposals to roll back Senate Bill 43 have not gained traction this year.

Parker Briden, Greitens’ spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.

Schupp’s legislation is Senate Bill 786.

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