Saturday, April 20, 2002

Fair housing

Legal Aid is his path for change

        City council members were a bit distracted on the day John E. Schrider got his award.

        Some wanted to investigate a protest at Cincinnati's police memorial. African-Americans reacted angrily to that idea. Police Chief Thomas Streicher defended their right to free speech.

        It was a tense meeting.

        And sandwiched in the middle was the brief presentation of a pewter julep cup to Mr. Schrider, who has spent 24 years fighting for the right of Cincinnati's African-Americans to live anywhere they choose.

        Mr. Schrider, 52, is the third person in 15 years to be honored as a “trailblazer” by Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

        Karla Irvine, executive director of the non-profit agency, presented the award.

        “I think they were somewhat paying attention, but maybe not all the way,” she says of the audience.

        Too bad. If more people understood and supported Mr. Schrider's work, Cincinnati would not be such a divided city today.

Guided lawsuits

        Since 1978, the soft-spoken Toledo native has worked for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. Early on, he handled several lawsuits that broadened housing options for thousands of African-Americans.

        Then as now, the city's major public-housing complexes were almost entirely segregated. In the '70s, the federal government began issuing Section 8 housing vouchers, designed to help low-income people rent in other neighborhoods.

        But it didn't necessarily work that way.

        When African-Americans tried to escape the crime-ridden complexes, they were essentially denied vouchers by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, which argued that they already had public housing.

        In 1979, Mr. Schrider sued the authority on behalf of a woman who wanted to raise her children in a better place. In a settlement, the authority agreed to stop its discriminatory voucher practices and build small units scattered around Greater Cincinnati.

Wider targets

        This was controversial stuff. Back then, “It was just an accepted point of fact that blacks were not welcome in some communities,” says Mary Asbury, executive director of Legal Aid.

        So Mr. Schrider sued again.

        This time, the targets were Hamilton County and five townships that refused to allow construction of the new units.

        The suit forced them to accept their fair share of public housing. Then the federal government cut funding to such projects, so success was limited.

        That's the story of the battle. Cincinnati today is the nation's eighth most-segregated city, so Mr. Schrider is still hard at work.

        He sits on the board of a non-profit corporation that builds affordable housing. He helps people with Section 8 vouchers find safe places to live. On occasion, he still represents families on the verge of eviction.

        He doesn't burn out, he says. The civil rights movement grabbed him in the '60s, and it has never let go.

        His advice to the city: “There has to be leadership. Whenever anybody proposes doing affordable housing, there's opposition. Somebody has to stand up to that opposition.”

        Trailblazers, after all, need others to follow.
        Contact: (859) 578-5584 or


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