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Joplin Handles Housing Issues: Part 1

>>AMY SUSAN: Hi.  Amy Susan, Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Labor.  On this edition of Labor Talk, we’re here on location in the City of Joplin, three months later after the tornado devastated the city.  And I’m joined here with Sheryl Rose.  She’s the Regional Manager for the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, as well as Lynn Onstot; she’s the Public Information Officer for the City of Joplin.  So, Sheryl, why would housing discrimination be more of a problem for an area such as Joplin that was recently hit by disaster?

>>SHERYL ROSE: Well, when--when there’s a disaster there’s obviously a--a shortage of housing and when there’s a shortage of housing, property owners, landlords tend to become more selective.  If they make their selections on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or because someone is--someone has a family with children, then that can violate the State and Federal Fair Housing Laws.

>>SUSAN: When a family is forced to relocate to a different location because of a natural disaster or some other reason, what should they know about their housing rights?

>>ROSE: Well, they should know that they can’t be discriminated against on any of the bases that I mentioned and they should know what to do about it if it happens.  Obviously, people in that situation are desperate for housing and they don’t want to lose a--a good opportunity.  They want to be able to live in the best place that they can afford.

>>SUSAN: What housing situations are covered under the Missouri Human Rights Act?  Is it just housing and apartments?  Can you expound a little bit?

>>ROSE: Yeah, it is homes, it is apartments.  It’s also trailer parks.  It’s extended-stay hotels.  It’s shelters.  It would be any place that--where people are living, you know, for an extended period of time, 30 days or more.

>>SUSAN: Okay.  And a hospital will not be included in the fair housing?

>>ROSE: Right.

>>SUSAN: Can you provide an example of housing discrimination that could have occurred during a time of natural disaster?

>>ROSE: All right.  Well, you might have a shelter, for instance, that didn’t want to let some--some person with a disability who has a service animal come into the shelter, or you might have a shelter that says, oh, we don’t want kids, you know, and so families with children would be affected by that and those things would violate the Fair Housing Laws.

>>SUSAN: Now, Lynn, what are some of the issues that the City of Joplin face relating to housing after this unfortunate event?

>>LYNN ONSTOT: Well, just because the magnitude of the disaster.  We had a lot of houses that were taken out by the tornado.  Typically we saw about 7,500 households.  Now that does include multi-family dwellings, you know, your apartment complexes and some of the duplexes, triplexes, things of that nature, so availability was a huge issue.  And so many people, you know, made things available to their friends and family, which is very nice that we have a sheltering community so to speak, and so they reached out to their friends and family.

>>SUSAN: Now, Sheryl, what services can the MCHR offer to agencies or even local government that can assist them in some of these issues?

>>ROSE: Well, the first thing we do, we can provide, is training and information.  We do have training programs available.  We can do those in person.  You know, come out to a place and make presentations.  We also have a lot of information that our intake people can provide if people call us.  And we have a lot of information on our website, as well.

>>SUSAN: So, again, we’re here on location in the City of Joplin, what used to be known as a residential area.  Houses used to surround us and now we see tractors, we see people working, picking up debris, and they’re going to be rebuilding soon.  What guidelines or requirements should builders and contractors be aware of?

>>ROSE: There are extensive manuals available regarding the 210 requirements under the Fair Housing Act for rebuilding rental property, and there’s also seven accessibility guidelines on new construction we need to follow.  Things like having doorways that are wide enough for a wheelchair and enough turning space in a bathroom or a kitchen for a wheelchair and lowered light switches for in--just to name a few.

>>SUSAN: Lynn, do you have any advice to give to other areas or other cities about ways to be preventative and proactive so that housing discrimination doesn’t happen?

>>ONSTOT: Well, again, I think part of it is education.  You know, it’s--it’s keeping the information out in front of the public, because you don’t really, you know, if you’ve been living in your home for five, ten, 15 years, you know, you think you’re going to be there and all of a sudden something like this would happen and you’re--you find yourself having to find a house very quickly and you may not have been, you know, in tune to, you know, housing laws, so to speak.  And so again, it’s just keeping the information aware, having it at the library, having the--the general resources available, websites such as yours, making people know that there are resources if they have questions that they can go to.

>>SUSAN: Well, thank you both for joining us today.  If you all have any questions or comments you can go to www.labor.mo.gov.  Click on News and Notices and then click on Labor Talk Podcast.