Council launches investigation of code enforcement practices

Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council
1027 S. Vandeventer
St. Louis MO 63110

Contact: Will Jordan, Executive Director
(314)534-5800, ehoced@aol.com

The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council launches official Fair Housing investigation of code enforcement practices of the City of Belleville, Illinois

For Immediate Release

Web site: www.ehocstl.org

(ST. LOUIS, Dec. 13, 2002) -- The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council is currently seeking information from persons with legitimate fair housing complaints that have been adversely affected by the code enforcement tactics of the City of Belleville, Illinois. We are launching an investigation of the fair housing issues involved in targeting blacks, mixed race families and couples, and families with children under the age of 18 years of age, for occupancy inspections. A legitimate fair housing compliant exist where the residents targeted where in the dwelling for a lawful reason regardless of being on the occupancy permit or not, and either did not give permission for the search and were ticketed and or searched anyway. Or if you did give permission but only did so because you were threatened or intimidated with the threat of force if you did not give permission to the inspector and their police escort. If you fall within the above category and you feel that you were singled out for an inspection because of your race, color, sex, presence of children under 18, religion or because you have a disability, we may able to help you and there is no charge for this representation.

The U.S. Department of HUD is the primary federal agency that investigates housing discrimination in the metropolitan area. As a Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) agency, EHOC conducts much of HUD’s initial intake and complaint processing and testing in the Metro area. The Illinois Commission on Human Rights is the state agency that investigates Fair Housing complaints in Southern Illinois. All other fair housing intake and testing is conducted by EHOC. We then refer cases to HUD, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the state commission on Human Rights. We also work with numerous partners to help resolve non-housing human rights issues.

To that end we have been in contact with the Department of Justice’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in Washington, DC. They are and have been aware of the situation in Belleville for some time now. Much like EHOC, however they are also compliant driven.

Numerous other cities in the region have started to implement some form of policy to target rental housing stock & the people that live there. The City of St. Louis uses its Conservation Districts to place limits beyond the Bocca Code on the number of people that can occupy a dwelling within those districts. In St. Louis City we have dealt with cases where the landlords have colluded with the building inspectors and abused their discretion to target renters that the landlord just didn’t like. Ultimately causing the tenet (in this case a black women with 4 children) to lose both here rental home and her deposit through absolutely no fault of her own.

We have reports of both Cahokia and Granite City using highly aggressive code enforcement tactics specifically targeting blacks. The political issue that those like Belleville Mayor Kern is riding upon is raising property value and addressing the aging rental housing stock. The problem is that these leaders are human and without diversity in political and official representation, Cities like Belleville are both comfortable and bold in using police and code enforcers to target “undesirables”. Which ultimately when no one is watching (or they don’t notice anyone watching) can become a means of “ethnic cleansing” of the community.

The target in Belleville is obviously lower income residents and naturally blacks within the community. Another major cause for concern about Belleville’s occupancy practices is that these other cities are now watching to see how the Federal and State officials respond to Belleville. Without a federal or state response I’m afraid that Southern Illinois will become like Montgomery Alabama in 1955 if it isn’t already? The U.S. Department of Justice is well aware of what has been going on in Belleville and has been for sometime. We at EHOC have found that often people have been afraid of coming forward with complaints until their struggle is recognized by some form of credible authority.

In this case, until now there has been no reason for anyone to believe that the City of Belleville wouldn’t be backed up by every other legitimate form of authority in this state and in this country. However I must emphasize that much like the Civil Rights struggle of the 60’s, the state and federal senators, congressmen, judges, state and U.S. Attorneys all are aware or should be aware of what is happening in both this city and surrounding communities. But until the people who are most effected by these abusive enforcement and zoning tactics demonstrate their desire and ability to speak up and end the abuse, history has shown that they will remain exactly where they are right now, just watching and just waiting.

Will Jordan is the Executive Director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council. Mr. Jordan has a B.S. in Psychology and a Juris Doctorate (law degree) from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He may be reached at his office 1027 S. Vandeventer 4th floor, St. Louis MO 63110 (314) 534-5800, fax (314) 534-2551, or e-mail to ehoced@aol.com