Maplewood, Missouri, In Trouble for Violating Fair Housing Act

The city of Maplewood is violating the Fair Housing Act by disproportionately revoking the occupancy permits of African-Americans, women and disabled residents, in effect banishing them, a federal lawsuit filed Monday says.

Two or more police calls can put someone on the list of “chronic nuisances,” the suit says, without a conviction or even when that person is the victim of the crime that triggered the police call.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, which filed the suit in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, said Maplewood’s nuisance ordinance was “one of the country’s most onerous.”

In a study of the use of the ordinance from 2010 to 2015, the council found that the majority of enforcement actions had been taken against African-Americans, the suit says.

It also says that a large percentage of actions have been taken against victims of domestic violence and those struggling with mental illness who seek police or medical help.

The council is a nonprofit that says it seeks to ensure equal access to housing and other public accommodations in the region.

Sasha Samberg-Champion, one of the lawyers who filed the suit, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that hundreds of similar ordinances had been enacted around the country in recent years.

He called Maplewood’s “perhaps one of the most egregious” because it can result in eviction and exile and “explicitly provides that [being the victim of] domestic violence can be the basis for enforcement.” Samberg-Champion works for a Washington civil rights law firm that has been investigating similar ordinances around the country.

City Manager Marty Corcoran said, “I obviously would deny that we’ve ever done anything based on race, religion, age, gender. … I just don’t believe that’s taken place.” Corcoran said cases were not initiated by the city. Someone else, typically neighbors, starts the process with a complaint, he said.

The housing council says that the ordinance defines “nuisance” so broadly that it can “potentially include virtually any act that city officials do not like.”

A nuisance can include more than two instances within a 180-day period of “peace disturbance or domestic violence resulting in calls to police,” the suit claims.

The ordinance has only one way to abate the nuisance: revocation of the occupancy permit for up to six months, the suit says.

The council looked at details of 43 enforcement hearings from March 2010 to August 2015. In more than 55 percent of the hearings where race could be determined, the household was African-American, the suit says, or three times the percentage of African-American residents in the city.

Sixteen of the enforcement actions, or more than 37 percent, involved “at least in part” incidents of domestic violence.

Six involved women — all black — who had been attacked by a rebuffed suitor or current or former male partner, the suit says. All six were deemed a “nuisance subject to occupancy permit revocation,” the suit says, although in two cases action was suspended, “effectively putting the survivor on probation.”

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Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch |  Robert Patrick