The challenge Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders face in finding a landlord that will accept their voucher may soon be significantly lessened. A landmark bill, titled The Landlord Accountability Act of 2016, was proposed last month by Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), which would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders nationwide. If this bill passes, no landlord in the entire country would be allowed to deny a tenant specifically because they use a Section 8 voucher to help pay rent.
“You cannot legally discriminate against a potential tenant based on race, religion or gender, and this same protection should extend to a potential tenant’s income,” said Velázquez last week during the announcement of this bill.
Specifically, this bill would would make Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, which currently provides protection based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and handicap.
It has become increasingly difficult for Section 8 voucher holders to find a landlords willing to participate in the program. After waiting months or years to receive a voucher, Section 8 program participants are given a specific amount of time to find a landlord that accepts vouchers.
The difficulty of finding a landlord was highlighted in the summary of this proposed bill. Only 60% of persons that receive a Section 8 voucher are successful in finding a participating landlord. The remaining 40% lose their voucher and have no other choice but to once again go through a lengthy application process to receive rental assistance.
Nearly every day, we directly communicate with Section 8 voucher holders who struggle to find a unit. We regularly receive messages on our Facebook page and through email from users asking for help in finding a voucher-friendly landlord.
While there has been an effort in certain cities, counties and states to make source of income discrimination illegal, a large majority of the country has no such law in effect. Furthermore, only a select number of those areas specifically protect Section 8 participants. Otherwise, unless the source of income anti-discrimination law directly mentions the Section 8 program, landlords may discriminate against voucher holders.
The Landlord Accountability Act of 2016 would be a federal law that supersedes all local level housing discrimination laws. Even the State of Texas ruling that prevents legislation from being passed to protect Section 8 voucher holders would be overruled by the federal ordinance.
The proposed bill would hand out significant fines to landlords who deny Section 8 tenants solely for their source of income. Uncooperative landlords could face a fine up to $100,000; not including an additional $50,000 fine, half of which would be paid to the tenant that was discriminated against.
The bill would also introduce a Multifamily Housing Complaint Resolution program to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords. Additionally, a $24 million grant program proposed in the bill would allow local housing offices to assist tenants by providing legal advice.
Although this bill would have a significant result if approved, it is unknown how likely it is to become law. One issue is that the Democratically-supported bill is being introduced in a legislature comprised majorly of Republicans. However, according to CityLimits.org, Section 8 legislation has received more bipartisan support than other federal housing programs, such as Public Housing.
While some areas are gradually introducing laws to protect Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders, the large majority of the nation may still face discrimination when searching for a unit. The Landlord Accountability Act of 2016 would provide protection to the entire country all at once. Otherwise, one could only guess as to how many years (or decades) it would take for each individual jurisdiction in the country to approve anti-Section 8 discrimination legislation.
If you would like your local representative to support this bill, you can search for contact information on the US House of Representatives website here. Searching is easy, as you only need to provide your zip code, and the web page will provide information about your local representative, along with links to their website and email address.