Denial of housing or difference in treatment based on source of income should be illegal in Ohio
What is "source of income" discrimination?
You have seen the homes for rent ads that say "no Metro" or "no Section 8." These are examples of source of income (SOI) discrimination. In Ohio, landlords are legally allowed to refuse rent payments from a 3rd party. In most cases this form of discrimination applies to households which have a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV), also known as "Metro" or "Section 8". SOI discrimination could also include tenants whose rent payments come from social or church organizations or from friends or relatives.
Some types of housing are barred from SOI discrimination if the properties receive some kind of Federal assistance. Most prominently, in Ohio, that would be Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) housing where SOI discrimination is not permitted. Other forms of "assisted" housing are FHA mortgages or properties assisted with HOME funding. In 2010 HUD issued guidance to their grantees that they may not discriminate based on source of income when they receive Federal grants. "A family’s source of income should never be used as a basis to discriminate against them, said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. We are sending a very clear message to those who seek federal funds that we intend to stand up for the cause of civil rights and expect them to do the same." The problem for homeseekers is that it is hard to know whether a property has received LIHTC or HOME funding. This is where public housing authorities and community organizations that offer homesearch services can help. Challenging properties in their communities that have a duty to accept HCV households is an important advocacy service.
Why are some landlords reluctant to accept HCV households? Landlords may say they don't want the hassle of dealing with the public housing authority that issues the voucher. They may object to the restriction on rent levels (the rent reasonableness requirement) or the housing quality standards (HQS) inspections.
Sometimes SOI discrimination is a smoke screen for illegal discrimination against a protected class of homeseekers. In Ohio, that might include race, color, religion, national origin/ancestry, gender, families with children, or persons with disability. For example,if a landlord doesn't want to rent to families with children and most all the HCV homeseekers are families with children. Bingo! The landlord doesn't have to say "no children", which is illegal. Instead the landlord can say "no Section 8." Same for persons with disabilities, racial or ethnic minorities, or female headed households. If tenants or their advocates suspect SOI is a way to engage in illegal discrimination, a private fair housing agency can help get the proof. Even if the landlord is not “intentionally” restricting a protected class...if a policy has the impact of discrimination, it could be illegal.
In an effort to sidestep SOI discrimination, many public housing authorities create "landlord lists" which “advertise” rental units or properties where the landlords have agreed to accept HCV tenants. But here comes another problem. Having the housing authority promote these eligible units could be a form of “steering”, where voucher households end up being clustered in certain areas or properties. Earlier this year, Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) issued a report on this practice. SOI discrimination promotes clustering, as portrayed in a recent Marketplace report from New Orleans. In this community, most HCV households are African American and landlords in most surrounding communities use SOIdiscrimination. Being barred from most communities pushes HCV households into neighborhoods and properties that are already majority African American.
What else can be done? PRRAC reports that 10 states, the District of Columbia and numerous municipalities have outlawed SOI discrimination to keep these families out. In Ohio only the City of Wickliffe is on this list. Just this past week, Pittsburgh’s City Council took steps to enact SOI protections for HCV households. Final action is expected this week. More on Pgh here.
Could SOI protections come to Ohio? The short answer is YES. The longer answer is that it will take some work by HCV tenants and their advocates to make local action possible. Here’s some action steps.
1. Document the problem. How often are SOI units advertised in local newspapers or Craigslist? How many HCV households are forced to request extensions of time to find suitable housing? How many vouchers are turned back because households can’t find suitable housing? What is the experience of social agencies and churches that provide emergency housing assistance in the form of a voucher?
2. Build a coalition of local people who will work (not just give lip service) to the problem. In Pittsburgh the proposal for SOI protections emerged from the City's Affordable Housing Task Force.
3. Find a journalist who will take up the cause. Not so many local journalists have run into this problem themselves--they need to be educated.
4. Recruit a politician who can introduce legislation. The PRRAC memo listed above has links to all the existing laws so you don’t have to start from scratch.
5. Educate other decision makers to support the legislation. One very good reason is that HUD will soon require that local communities show how they are promoting Fair Housing. Having an SOI ordinance on the books should help document that cities are taking inclusion seriously. 12/13/15
If SOI discrimination is a priority for you, please be sure to take the RHINO 2016 Priorities survey.
UPDATE 12/14/15: KrisK writes with the news that the City of South Euclid is considering an SOI ordinance.
August 7, 2016 rhino!Up Source of Income (SOI) discrimination is alive and well for now...
The importance of opening up metropolitan rental markets to Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) households came up in a sidebar conversation at Cuyahoge Affordable Housing Alliance last week. RHINO’s Community Manager made the point that enacting SOI protections in Cleveland won’t make much difference because most rental homes within the city are open to voucher holders. The challenge for Cleveland is opening the suburbs with affordable rents. where schools, employment opportunities and services are better, to voucher holders is still high.
Baltimore County is in the news this week for having rejected proposed SOI protections for HCV households. Baltimore County County Council Chairwoman wonders why should the county be forced to enact this protection when the State and the Feds have not acted? The quick answer is that the county is the level of government that coincides with the regional rental housing market. Resistance to geographic mobility has been a theme in Baltimore. Last year Maryland’sgovernor sabotaged a transportation plan which would have promoted geographic mobility, in favor of a redevelopment plan that would have continued the concentration of poor households within the boundaries of the City of Baltimore.
Despite this recent history, there’s some hope for advocates in Baltimore county. The opponent’s biggest single gripe about enacting SOI protections is that the idea came to the County as a result of a settlement of a fair housing complaint in which the county was not a defendant. Here’s two options for advocates. One, develop another planning process that involves the county in planning for SOI protections. Two: sue the county for failure to affirmatively further fair housing.
SOI protections came up again this week in the wake of a speech by “Evicted” author Matthew Desmond in Pittsburgh. The news site Public Source characterized the problem of lack of mobility on the “Section 8 Stigma” and recommended landlord and public education about the program. Great idea, but it’s been tried over and over. While the city of Pittsburgh has taken leadership in enacting SOI protections, landlords in the surrounding counties are free to discriminate.
While educational campaigns with landlords and “the public” make sense, challenging county government directly may be worth the effort. First, a coalition of advocates including faith, child, poverty, and housing advocates needs a campaign to focus on the public perception issues. Expecting housing authorities to education landlords and the public is inadequate. There’s now a ton of evidence to show that geographic mobility is a key to improving household stability and raising education and employment outcomes. At the same time, the united advocates could challenge the landlord and real estate industries defend economic segregation as a viable social policy. The “hole card” is the risk to the county of seeing its Block Grant funding challenged because the county failed to affirmatively. In the back of every county administrator’s mind is the idea that no one wants his name on a test case. (Thanks JH)
June 20, 2016, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, For those with Section 8 vouchers, finding suitable housing difficult Despite newly enacted SOI protections, voucher holders are still having trouble finding affordable units. Local advocates in Pittsburgh continue to do a good job keeping the issue alive in the Mainstream Media. January 16, 2016 Pittsburgh Tribune Review Pittsburgh landlords sue to stop SOI protections A new law in Pittsburgh makes it illegal for landlords to advertise "no Section 8" when they offer a unit for rent. Now the Tribune Review reports "An association representing Pittsburgh apartment owners on Friday sued the city, contending an ordinance that City Council approved last year is illegal because it requires landlords to accept federal housing vouchers. The Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, which filed the suit in Common Pleas Court, is the fourth organization to sue the city in recent weeks over ordinances adopted in late 2015. One of the law's sponsors said the apartment association is misinterpreting the ordinance. Councilman Daniel Lavelle of the Hill District said it does not force landlords to accept Section 8 housing choice vouchers. It prohibits discrimination based solely on the vouchers for low-income tenants, he said."
December 10, 2015Pittsburgh's Tribune Review reports that Pittsburgh's Rental Registration ordinance moves forward and Pittsburgh City Council is also preparing to enacting "source of income" protection for Housing Choice Voucher tenants. "Council separately advanced an amendment to the city's housing discrimination ordinance that would require landlords to accept low-income tenants participating in the federal government's Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). Under the amendment sponsored by Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze, Section 8 participants could file a grievance with the city Human Relations Commission if they believe a landlord has denied them an apartment based on that rental subsidy."
December 10, 2015Lynda Carson reports from California: "There is plenty of documentation and evidence revealing that Section 8 renters are being targeted, and are facing major problems in Oakland, the Bay Area, and across the nation because very few states, counties, and cities prohibit discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders!"
Lynda is a tenant activist and independent journalist in the San Francisco Bay area and has provided me with lots of support on NPQ articles.