Saturday, June 20, 2015

New Santa Monica Ordinance Now Prohibits "Source Of Income" Housing Discrimination; Joins Over Three Dozen States, Local Municipalities In Outlawing Practice That Frequently Targets Voucher-Holding Tenants Receiving Section 8 Rent Subsidies

In Santa Monica, California, the Santa Monica Daily Press reports:
  • No more “No Section 8” on rental listings in Santa Monica. Council quickly and unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits housing discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income, including Section 8 vouchers.

    Neither federal nor California law prohibits discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders, Denise McGranahan, senior attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, told council.

    This is because a court determined that Section 8 vouchers are not a source of income under California law.

    Twelve states, nine counties and 18 cities have outlawed discrimination against Section 8 tenants.(1)

    “Section 8 is one of the key ways housing is provided to low income tenants living on fixed incomes,” McGranahan said. “Without Section 8, these tenants might otherwise live on the streets, in shelters, or double up with relatives.”

    The program, which is used by 2 million people, is plagued by discrimination, McGranahan told council. Discrimination, she said, is worst in wealthier neighborhoods like Santa Monica.

    “We see the refusal to accept Section 8 as a form of tenant harassment,” she said. “Private landlords often refuse to accept Section 8, even from their existing rent control tenants even though they could get more rent from section 8 than under rent control. They say no, assuming that long-term rent control tenants will vacate rather than lose their vouchers allowing owners to increase the rent to market.”

    The ordinance would not require landlords to lower their rents to accommodate those who have Section 8 vouchers.

    “Housing choices are limited due to two factors: Discrimination and the fact that vouchers do not allow tenants to pay market rent,” McGranahan said. “If the city obtains increased payment standards, this proposed law would help more people. Voucher holders who are not at the top of the city’s affordable housing wait list, lose their vouchers if they cannot locate affordable housing within 90 days. Many are forced to port to other cities, which is detrimental to the city’s Section 8 program.”

    This type of discrimination, she said, furthers the segregation of neighborhood.

    Studies suggest that landlords discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders as a pretext for discriminating against minorities, disabled, and families with children,” McGranahan said. “These populations are over represented in the Section 8 program, including in Santa Monica, as compared to the general population.”

    Those who violate the ordinance could be forced to pay between $1,000 and $10,000.
For the story, see Landlord discrimination against Section 8 vouchers outlawed.

(1) Among the cities which have adopted similar ordinances is the City of Austin, Texas, which shortly after such adoption, was belted with a lawsuit by a local landlord trade group. See Austin sued over ordinance that aims to stop housing discrimination:
  • The Austin Apartment Association announced [...] it filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin after council members unanimously approved an ordinance that would stop landowners from discriminating against potential renters with housing vouchers.

    “It’s not that we have anything against the voucher or the person that’s the recipient of the voucher, it’s the program itself,” said Robbie Robinson, president of the Austin Apartment Association (AAA). “It’s this big book of regulations and rules that we would have to agree to and contract with the government.”

    The group said it is upset that a once-voluntary federal program is now being forced on them. Robinson said landowners don’t want to be pushed into a partnership with the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its Section 8 programing. It means more rules, regulations, inspections, maintenance, reporting and other compliance regulations which create a burden for landowners, she added.

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