By RICHARD HALSTEAD | firstname.lastname@example.org | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: April 28, 2021 at 5:41 p.m. | UPDATED: April 28, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.
Landlords in Marin and elsewhere in the North Bay are continuing to discriminate against prospective tenants who receive housing subsidies and who are Latino, according to a new report by Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
Fair Housing examined 63 properties, 21 each in Marin, Sonoma and Solano counties, and found differences in treatment favoring White applicants and/or problematic responses to applicants using housing vouchers at 52, or 83%, of the properties. Only 11 housing providers tested showed no significant differential treatment or discriminatory policy, according to the report.
“The investigation shows that it’s still very difficult for someone with a housing subsidy to find a place to live, and it becomes that much harder for a voucher holder who is Latinx,” said Caroline Peattie, Fair Housing’s executive director, in a statement.
Peattie said Fair Housing focused its attention on the experience of Latinos in this investigation. A similar survey conducted by the nonprofit in 2019 found evidence of discrimination against renters who are Black and who are Section 8 voucher holders.
“What is particularly problematic about this result is the high rate of discrimination against voucher holders that occurred even after the passage of SB 329,” Peattie said.
Senate Bill 329, which became effective in January 2020, expanded protections against discrimination based on renters’ source of income to include Section 8 federal housing assistance vouchers.
Holders of Section 8 vouchers pay about a third of their income towards rent, and the federal government pays the rest.
Fair Housing investigators, one who is Latino using a housing voucher and the other who is White and non-Latino using a housing voucher, contacted landlords by email, phone or site visits. Each property was contacted by two or three different means.
Results that were interpreted as clear differential treatment or discrimination included: refusal to rent or negotiate; making a false representation about availability; offering different terms, conditions, or privileges and making discriminatory remarks.Fair Housing said that of the 21 properties tested in Marin, two showed discrimination on the basis of national origin, three showed discrimination on the basis of national origin and source of income, and 12 showed discrimination on the basis of source of income.
In San Rafael, at five out of the six properties tested, there was at least some discrepancy or disadvantage in treatment for the Latino tester and/or for testers using vouchers.
Similarly, in San Anselmo, Fairfax, Mill Valley, Kentfield, Tiburon, Sausalito, and Larkspur eight of the nine properties tested showed evidence of discrimination. Novato was the area in Marin where the least discrimination toward Latino renters and voucher holders was detected. Even in Novato, however, 60% of the properties tested showed evidence of either source-of-income discrimination, national origin discrimination or both.
Peattie said the investigation found less discriminatory behavior in Marin than in the other two counties. She added, however, that the amount of discrimination in Marin was extremely high, “considering that local source-of-income protections had been in place since 2016 in the county and 2018 in various cities and towns.”
Since 2016, Marin County has spent over $850,000 on a landlord partnership program that provides financial incentives to landlords who rent to tenants with Section 8 vouchers. The county compensates landlords if their properties are damaged by renters using vouchers, and pays the landlords up to a month’s rent if their unit is unoccupied between voucher holders.
The county even provides an answering service that landlords can call at any time for help if they have a problem with a tenant using a Section 8 voucher.
“We’ve acquired 175 new landlords since the program started,” said Marin Housing Authority Executive Director Lewis Jordan. “Our incentive programs are working well.”
In 2014, before the program was initiated, just 24% of the people who received Section 8 vouchers in Marin found housing. In 2019, 107, or 56%, of the 190 people who received vouchers found housing.
“This type of testing is so important as individual applicants may never know that they were discriminated against,” wrote Stephanie Haffner, executive director of Legal Aid of Marin in an email. “Even if they were, they will have great difficulty proving it or getting any relief absent testing like this.”
Haffner said Legal Aid of Marin has seen a 50% increase in calls during the first three months of 2021 from renters who are worried about being forced to move or who are living in terrible living conditions.
“We are also seeing an increasing rate of Latinx renter households reaching out for help,” Haffner said. “Our community needs all hands on deck to make sure that all the laws meant to protect renters are enforced and followed.”
In January, prompted by information unearthed by its investigation, Fair Housing filed a lawsuit alleging that a management company and the owners of two buildings in Sonoma County excluded voucher holders by using an illegal minimum income standard in at least two of their Sonoma County properties.
Fair Housing has also sent flyers detailing laws barring discrimination to properties where it found discrimination.