December 06, 2018

Bill would bar income-based housing discrimination

Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced legislation in November that would prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their lawful source of income.

In a Nov. 14 letter to the senators, ABA President Robert M. Carlson wrote that every year families are denied housing opportunities simply because their lawful and sufficient income is not accepted by a property owner. Often these individuals rely on support from the government for their housing, and the rejections are merely pretext for skirting anti-discrimination laws.

Carlson explained that a landlord might seek to exclude those with disabilities by refusing tenants whose income is derived from Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability compensation. Fifteen states and over 72 jurisdictions already prohibit source-of-income discrimination in some form.  

Property owners commonly engage in source-of-income discrimination by refusing to accept tenants using the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, which provides federal rental subsidies that enable low-income households to afford private-market housing. These vouchers are primarily used by households headed by African Americans and females, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities, including veterans.

Carlson emphasized that each rejection represents a costly delay for HCV holders, who must undergo extensive screening by local public housing agencies and may wait years before receiving the subsidy. Those who are approved have only a limited time to use or lose their vouchers, and in some jurisdictions 50 percent of voucher holders are unable to find suitable housing quickly enough and become homeless.

“For veterans using the VA Supportive Housing vouchers, a sub-set of HCVs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that landlord unwillingness to accept vouchers is a ‘primary challenge’ in the administration of the program,” Carlson wrote. He said that opportunities for success are reduced for those unable to find housing in areas without source-of-income laws because they are more likely to live in impoverished, racially segregated areas.

The legislation, S. 3612, would remove a substantial impediment to housing men and women with lawful sources of income, Carlson concluded, adding that promoting the success of HCV holders as independent members of their communities only increases the return on federal investment in these programs.

Hatch, introducing the bill Nov. 13, noted the widespread support for the legislation from organizations focused on affordable housing and from veterans groups. He stressed that “if you pass a screening and background check, you should not be denied a place to live because of your service record or how your rent will be paid.”