A Black couple in Northern California says an appraiser undervalued their home by nearly half a million dollars because of their race. They took the unusual action of asking a White friend to show the home for a second appraisal, which was significantly higher. Anna Werner has the story.
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By RICHARD HALSTEAD | email@example.com | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: December 6, 2021 at 6:17 p.m. | UPDATED: December 8, 2021 at 7:28 a.m.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California and a Marin City couple have sued a San Rafael appraiser in federal court for alleged race discrimination.
Paul Austin and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin, both of whom are Black, were surprised when the appraisal of their home in February 2020 came back $455,000 lower than an appraisal done in March 2019.
The Austins sought the appraisal because they wanted to take advantage of lower interest rates and obtain additional funding to complete home improvements.
Janette Miller of Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers conducted the second audit and is named as a defendant in the suit along with AMC Links LLC, which hired her to do the job at the request of the Austins’ mortgage broker.
“We believe that Ms. Miller valued our house at a lower rate because of our race and because of the current and historical racial demographics of where our house is located,” Austin said. “The sales comps that the appraiser chose to use were unsuitable and were guaranteed to lower the value of our house.”
To test their suspicion of discrimination, the Austins sought another appraisal. This time they took steps to ensure that the appraiser would not know that they are Black.
They packed away their family photos and removed any art that was African or African American. They also had a White friend greet the appraiser as if she was the homeowner when the appraiser visited the house.
“The fact that there was nearly a half a million dollar bump in value after they erased themselves from their home is very strong evidence, we believe, of race discrimination,” said Julia Howard-Gibbon, a lawyer for Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
Neither Miller nor AMC Links responded to requests for comment Monday.
The suit makes clear that there were important differences between the way the two appraisers, both hired by AMC Links, arrived at their valuations.
Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, mortgage lenders and brokers are no longer allowed to employ or contract with an appraiser directly. They must instead contract with management companies such as AMC Links that hire independent appraisers.
“We also believe that the (first) appraiser took race into account when she valued the home by comparing it to sales primarily in Marin City,” Howard-Gibbon said, “rather than a larger radius around the home.”
The suit asserts that appraising a house in Marin City using comparisons of other property sales located exclusively or primarily in Marin City results in a skewed and race-based valuation of the property.
“Marin City has a long history of undervaluation based on stereotypes, redlining, discriminatory appraisal standards, and actual or perceived racial demographics,” the suit states. “Choosing to use comps located in Marin City means that the valuation is dictated by these past sale prices, which were the direct product of racial discrimination.”
When doing her sales comparisons, Miller used three properties in Marin City, two in Mill Valley and one in Sausalito. The second appraiser used two properties in Marin City and six in Sausalito.
“Pulling comps within the neighborhood of the home and near the home isn’t in and of itself problematic, if there are recent comparable sales,” Howard-Gibbon said.
The suit asserts this was not the case. It quotes Miller as writing in her appraisal that she based her valuation on five years of Marin City homes sales, where no one year had more than four sales. As a result, the suit says, Miller’s opinion is fundamentally flawed because of the small number of home sales per year.
The suit also identifies other problems with the approach that Miller took. It says Miller’s market analysis was dated, looking at no sales more recent than 2008. It faults Miller for lowering the valuation per square foot on the houses located outside of Marin City that she used for comparison purposes.
“Miller opined that she looked at several years of data and determined that houses in Marin City were worth ‘conservatively’ 25% less per square foot than those in ‘surrounding areas,'” the suit alleges.
The suit asserts that two of the three Marin City homes used in the sales comparisons were unlike the Austins’ home.
A Brookings Institution study released in 2018 reported that houses in majority Black neighborhoods in U.S. metropolitan areas were appraised for 23% less than properties in mostly White neighborhoods, despite having similar quality and amenities.
The response from appraisers at the time was that their job is to assess local market conditions, not to create the conditions.
The plaintiffs in the Marin City suit are seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory damages, statutory damages and punitive damages, in addition to attorneys’ fees and expenses.
According to the suit, the Austins have suffered “emotional distress with attendant physical injuries, and violation of their civil rights.” The plaintiffs have requested a jury trial.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Spero in San Francisco. The defendants have not filed responses and have no attorneys listed in the court docket.
An initial case management conference is scheduled for March 4.
A Black couple says an appraiser lowballed them. So, they ‘whitewashed’ their home and say the value shot up.
Click here to read the article in the Washington Post.
By Jonathan Edwards
December 6, 2021 at 7:22 a.m. EST
Paul Austin said he felt good as the appraiser roamed his Northern California home last year, ticking off some of the $400,000 worth of improvements he and his wife had made to the property.
The appraiser noted the new fireplace, Austin told a state reparations task force in October, mentioned a room they’d added and complimented the view from the new deck.
So Austin and his wife were shocked when the appraiser pegged the value of their Marin City home in the San Francisco Bay area at $995,000, far lower than previous appraisals.
“It was a slap in the face,” Austin told KGO-TV in February.
Austin and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin decided to get another opinion three weeks later, they say in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco. This time, they enlisted the help of their White friend Jan who agreed to pretend to be the homeowner for a different appraiser, the lawsuit alleges. The Austins “whitewashed” their house by removing their family photos and stripping the walls of their African-themed art. Jan helped on this front, too, by staging photos of her own family, the lawsuit states.
The new appraisal came in at $1.48 million — nearly a half-million more than the previous estimate.
The Austins, according to the lawsuit, believe the first appraiser, Janette Miller, gave them a lowball valuation because they’re Black. The couple and the nonprofit Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California are now suing Miller and her company, Miller & Perotti Real Estate Appraisals in San Rafael. They’re seeking financial damages and asking the court to order the defendants to ensure they won’t discriminate when appraising houses.
Miller and her appraisal company did not respond to messages from The Washington Post sent late Sunday night. Attorneys with Fair Housing Advocates, who are representing themselves and the Austin family, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Austin told the state reparations task force in October he believes the property was devalued “because we are in a Black neighborhood, and the home belonged to a Black family.”
Other Black homeowners have reported similar experiences. The value of a woman’s Indiana home more than doubled between appraisals last year after she stripped it of all evidence that it was owned by a Black person and a White family friend stood in as the homeowner. Earlier this year, a Black family in Ohio removed family photos, artwork and their 6-year-old daughter’s superhero pictures, replacing them with belongings their White neighbors offered up. The appraised value of their house went from $465,000 to about $560,000.
A 2018 study by the Brookings Institution found that homes in Black neighborhoods in U.S. metropolitan areas were undervalued by an average of $48,000, amounting to $156 billion in losses. Differences in the quality of the houses and neighborhoods didn’t fully explain the gap, according to the study led by Andre Perry, senior fellow for Brookings Metro who studies housing discrimination.
“It’s almost when people see Black neighborhoods, they see twice as much crime than there actually is. They see worse education than there actually is,” Perry told the Indianapolis Star. “I think this is what’s happening when appraisers, lenders, real estate agents see Blackness. They devalue the asset. They devalue the property.”
As for the Austins, they bought the four-bedroom, two-bath house in 2016 for $550,000 when it had 1,248 square feet. Before purchasing, they’d struggled to compete in a hot housing market. But the previous owners, keen on helping a Black couple achieve homeownership, sold them the place off market.
Over the next two years, the Austins spent $400,000 to improve their new home, they say in their lawsuit. They installed new appliances and fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms. They refinished the hardwood floors, replaced windows and painted the inside.
In May 2018, a new appraisal concluded the house was worth $864,000, according to the lawsuit.
The Austins kept renovating. They added a new foundation and retaining wall, creating more living space on the basement level. They put in a deck and a gas fireplace. They carved out a separate unit, with its own kitchen and bathroom, that could be used as a home office or a rental.
Through all the renovations, the Austins nearly doubled the house’s square footage.
“It was work, but it was exciting,” Austin said in the KGO interview.
In March 2019, the Austins, when applying to refinance their mortgage again, got another appraisal, which pegged the house’s value at $1.45 million, the lawsuit states. Rates kept dropping, so they decided to refinance again in early 2020, which led to the Miller appraisal.
Austin told the panel on state reparations that Miller’s alleged lowball valuation upset him. His grandparents migrated from the South to the Marin City area in the 1940s to work in the shipyards in nearby Sausalito. They tried to move out, Austin said, but segregationist practices trapped them.
Now, some 80 years later, Austin said he feels he’s dealing with vestiges of that racism. He hopes his lawsuit puts a stop to it.
“I do want to see a change,” he told the panel, “because I don’t want to see my children have to deal with this.”
Click here to read the article on the Housing Wire website.
December 6, 2021, 5:22 pm By Matthew Blake
A San Rafael, California real estate appraiser is being sued for allegedly undervaluing a home by almost 50% because the homeowners are Black.
Sausalito, California homeowners Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin, along with Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday alleging race discrimination against Janette C. Miller of Miller & Perotti Real Estate Appraisal and AMC Links LLC, an appraisal management company headquartered in Lehi, Utah.
Messages left with Miller and AMC Links on Monday were not returned.
The lawsuit is the latest instance of Black homeowners stating that an appraiser has, because of conscious or subconscious racism, thought less of their home’s value, and that no one intervened to overrule the appraiser’s prejudice. By many appraisers own admission, their profession is old and white, and faced with a growing number of race discrimination complaints, though the extent of these complaints is unclear.
According to the lawsuit, Tate-Austin, and her husband Austin bought a house in Marin County for $550,000 in 2016. Over the next four years, the couple completely remodeled the home, and later added an accessory dwelling unit. They refinanced their mortgage in 2018 and 2019, and sought to do so again in 2020.
It was in this third iteration of mortgage refinancing where the alleged appraisal bias occurred.
Miller who, according to her LinkedIn, has operated Miller & Perotti appraisal services since 1992, valued the home at $992,000.
The Austins claim Miller was lowballing them because of their race. In response, the Austins brought in a new appraiser, who the complaint does not identify, and “white-washed” their house prior to the appraisal.
“They packed away their family photos, which depicted the house’s occupants as an African American family,” the complaint reads. “They also removed and stored any art that was African or African American themed and stored it where it would not be visible.”
Moreover, the Austin’s had a white friend pose as the property’s owner. This friend, “placed some of her own family photos, depicting her white family” around the house “prior to the inspection.”
The new appraiser valued the home at $1.482 million – 49% more than Miller’s valuation.
Besides the evidence drawn from the second appraisal, the Austins claim that Miller was biased because of the sales comparisons she used in valuing the home. Miller’s comparisons included homes in nearby Marin City, the complaint states, that were not like the Austins’ home but may have been selected because Marin City has a higher Black population relative to the rest of Marin County.
The complaint does not delve into why AMC Links is also being sued besides a sentence stating that the firm failed to review Miller’s valuation to ensure that it met the Appraisal Foundation’s published standards and was not influenced by race.
Appraisal management companies such as AMC Links typically play matchmaker between mortgage lender and appraiser. Federal regulators have envisioned appraisal management companies as a firewall between appraiser and lender.
Fair Housing of Northern California also names itself as a plaintiff, contending that their investigation into the Austin appraisal, “diverted resources, including staff time and financial resources, from other investigations and activities.”
In July, Fair Housing of Northern California filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of Cora Robinson, who alleged racial bias against Class Valuation, an appraisal management company, and Thomas Kearney, an individual appraiser.
In addition to officially filed complaints, the Washington Post, New York Times and other widely read publications have anecdotally reported on racial bias in appraisals. However, it is unclear how rampant bias complaints are.
For one, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has repeatedly declined to disclose to HousingWire the number of appraiser bias complaints it has received. In a November interview, Melody Taylor, executive director of HUD’s Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity task force, stated that, “Due to confidentiality filings, HUD does not disclose the complaints we receive.”
HUD has also told HousingWire it does not disclose investigations that are still pending.
In addition to HUD and a few private lawsuits, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau also receives complaints about appraisers. That federal agency has received 14 such complaints since 2019, though CFPB does not categorize such alleged misconduct as specifically regarding race discrimination.
A Black couple ‘erased themselves’ from their home to see if the appraised value would go up. It did — by nearly $500,000
Dec. 3, 2021 Updated: Dec. 5, 2021 6:29 p.m.
Paul Austin thought things were going well when the appraiser came to his Marin City home last January.
The appraiser complimented the views of the San Francisco Bay, and he was sure to point out all the improvements, Austin recalled at an Oct. 13 meeting of a state reparations task force. So he and his wife Tenisha Tate-Austin were shocked when the appraisal valued their home at $995,000 — nearly half-a-million dollars less than another appraisal 10 months earlier.
The couple, who are Black, got a second opinion last February. This time, they asked a white friend named Jan to sit at the kitchen island and pretend to be the homeowner. They also “whitewashed” their home by hiding art and family photos. That appraiser said their house was worth $1,482,500.
The $487,500 discrepancy between the two 2020 appraisals pushed the couple to file a fair housing lawsuit in federal district court this week against appraiser Janette Miller, her firm Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers Inc., and national appraisal company AMC Links LLC. It’s the latest escalation in a series of similar cases of alleged racial bias in the home appraisal process as California property owners move to reap financial gains from record home prices.
“We did our homework,” Austin told the Reparations Task Force in a panel on the racial wealth gap in October. “We believe the white lady wanted to devalue our property because we are in a Black neighborhood, and the home belonged to a Black family.”
Miller’s firm and AMC Links did not respond to requests for comment.
Researchers at the Brookings Institution have found that owner-occupied homes in majority-Black U.S. neighborhoods are undervalued by an average $48,000 per home, representing some $156 billion in cumulative losses — a dynamic that has prompted calls for policy reform to automate more of the home valuation process and otherwise minimize bias. Some in the appraisal industry, meanwhile, contend that the process is inherently subjective and driven by extreme pressure to increase home values, opening appraisers to unfair personal liability when homeowners disagree with the results.
In the case of Austin and Tate-Austin, the large appraisal discrepancy illustrates how even Bay Area residents able to purchase a home in one of the nation’s most expensive real estate markets can be shut out of some of the massive wealth generated by increasing property values.
The Austin family bought the home in late 2016 for $550,000, according to the lawsuit, and Austin said they spent around $400,000 expanding the footprint, renovating the interior and adding features like an outdoor deck and an in-law unit with bay views. With the higher second appraisal designed to take race out of the equation, the home is now worth nearly triple what they paid five years ago.
“There are definitely things about this complaint that are uniquely strong,” said the couple’s attorney, Julia Howard-Gibbon of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California. “They erased themselves from the home, essentially.”
Though similar cases with extreme differences in appraisal values have also surfaced in Oakland, Stockton and other California cities with large Black populations, the new lawsuit revolves around the North Bay’s unique racial dynamics.
Austin knows firsthand that Marin City, an unincorporated area wedged between affluent Sausalito and Mill Valley, grew out of the pre-World War II migration of tens of thousands of Black workers seeking employment around the Sausalito shipyard. His own grandparents lived and worked there.
Though they saved money to move to other areas of Marin County, Austin said in his October testimony, they were unable to buy property elsewhere because of exclusionary practices like discriminatory bank lending and racial covenants.
The fact that his family encountered what seemed like a new version of the same old problem more than a half-century later, he said at the October meeting, made him feel ill.
“My stomach hurt, my head hurt, just because of what we went through,” Austin said. “I don’t wish that on anybody.”
Attorneys for the couple argue in the new lawsuit that “Marin City has a long history of undervaluation based on stereotypes, redlining, discriminatory appraisal standards, and actual or perceived racial demographics.”
By focusing the first appraisal only on the small number of homes sold in the immediate Marin City area, Howard-Gibbon said the appraiser “built an invisible barrier” around the home by comparing it only to other sale prices in a long-marginalized area — a result she called “recycled discrimination.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, financial damages and a court order directing the appraisers to take action to ensure the issues in the complaint are not repeated.
Austin said at the October meeting that he is also focused on ongoing issues like recent desegregation orders issued for Marin County schools. He still can’t help but notice that neighbors’ homes on smaller lots have already crept up to values around $1.6 or $1.7 million.
“Yes, I do want to see a change,” Austin said. “I don’t want to see my children have to deal with this.”
Lauren Hepler is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @LAHepler
Universal Section 8 and Fair Housing enforcement: A formula for housing stability for America's renters
BY JACQUELINE WAGGONER, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 11/14/21 07:00 PM EST
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL
Housing is foundational to a just and equitable recovery. Relief programs for the millions of people whose livelihoods have been upended by COVID-19—rental assistance, eviction moratoria, and others—have been essential but temporary by design. However, the impacts of the pandemic are long lasting, adding to the severe affordable housing challenges that existed long before the current crisis. It’s time to enact long-term solutions that protect and keep America’s renters stably housed.
Fortunately, we know what works. One of the most impactful legislative measures that the federal government can implement to improve housing stability for families and individuals is the expansion of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, which enables very low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities to afford quality housing. Universal Section 8 was a priority on President Biden’s housing agenda during his presidential campaign. Now is the time to implement it!
Section 8 is vital for preventing people from experiencing homelessness in a real estate market that has witnessed skyrocketing rents across the country. It also enacts fair housing protections for families of color, who have been systematically denied housing choices due to practices such as redlining, exclusionary zoning, and steering. More than 2.1 million U.S. households benefit from housing choice vouchers in a given year, and families of color make up the majority of this population.
At the same time, the federal government should require that all landlords nationwide accept housing vouchers. Section 8 only works if federal rental assistance is classified as a legal form of rent payment everywhere. But most U.S. cities and states currently allow landlords to deny a tenant housing if they plan to use non-wage income like veterans’ benefits or Section 8 to pay their rent, through a practice called Source of Income (SOI) discrimination.
Changing the systems that allow income bias to persist requires federal legislation making SOI discrimination illegal nationwide, with sufficient funding to enforce it. In New York, the Statewide Source of Income Coalition led by Enterprise Community Partners successfully fought to make SOI discrimination illegal statewide in 2019—but a recent investigation by Housing Rights Initiative into 88 New York City landlords found that people paying rent with Section 8 vouchers and other non-wage benefits still experience bias.
Similarly, in 2019 California passed SB329, a state fair housing law that made housing vouchers a protected source of income; yet recent investigations from Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California have shown that SOI discrimination still persists, with landlords creating illegal workarounds to avoid accepting vouchers. Washington, D.C., also passed source of income protections in 2005 but, as recently as 2018, 15% of District landlords still rejected voucher holders, according to The Urban Institute.
While landlords may refuse Section 8 vouchers for a variety of reasons, the decision is ultimately a proxy for keeping people with low incomes, particularly Black and Latino residents, out of their properties—and local and state actions can only go so far in solving this problem. Our communities need legal source of income protections and adequate enforcement measures at the federal level. Only this two-pronged approach that introduces key legislation and provides the resources to enforce it will end income bias and safeguard housing for the roughly 11 million Americans who need and use federal assistance to pay their rent.
As a candidate, President Biden pledged to make Section 8 universal, and his FY 2022 budget called for $5.4 billion for an expansion of vouchers. We urge Congress to include the Section 8 expansion in its FY 2022 appropriations legislation. Furthermore, to meet his goal of “building back better,” and enact true systems change, President Biden must fight for Section 8 expansion and push Congress to pass accompanying legislation codifying the protection of non-wage forms of income for rent payment.
It’s also essential for state and city leaders to do their part by allocating funding to enforce and raise awareness for existing SOI and fair housing laws. State and city agencies should conduct SOI “Know Your Rights” trainings and outreach campaigns. Local governments have a robust understanding of housing issues on the ground and can target residents with the greatest needs.
Everyone deserves a place to call home, and now is the time to implement transformational, long-term solutions for housing stability. President Biden and Congress must act quickly in pairing Universal Section 8 with federal SOI protections and enforcement. State and local governments should then follow suit with greater fair housing enforcement and awareness campaigns. With urgency and teamwork, but most importantly, humanity and a commitment to constituents, our leaders can uplift the most vulnerable Americans with the hope of a stable home.
Jacqueline Waggoner is president of the Solutions division at Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing nonprofit.
By NATALIE HANSON | email@example.com |
PUBLISHED: September 12, 2021 at 5:34 p.m. | UPDATED: September 12, 2021 at 5:35 p.m.
Read the article here.
Marin’s cities and towns are preparing to update key housing policies as a historic housing crisis looms.
Local governments must submit a draft housing element in June and have the document complete by January 2023. The process is expected to pit old pressures to curtail growth against increasing demands to shelter growing numbers of people unable to find a home.
Community leaders say they will move forward this month under the assumption they will have to identify the required number of residences according to numbers prescribed by the state, even as appeal hearings with communities challenging their assignments are scheduled with Association of Bay Area Governments through October. Most Marin communities filed appeals to the state’s housing mandates, citing strained resources.
“It’s very difficult to have an entirely suburban, bordering on rural in some places, county, that is part of a bigger urban metropolitan area and be in stuck in the same system,” Larkspur City Manager Dan Schwarz said.
“It’s not good public policy for us to (create many) units in areas that have to cope with those dangers,” he said. “If things play out that we need to accommodate so many more units, then we have to have a discussion with the community about, how do we bring in this level of housing in a way that meshes with our community character?”
Last week, the Larkspur City Council approved contracts to lead public outreach and appointed a steering committee, although outreach sessions are not set until after the city’s ABAG appeal hearing in October. Mill Valley will begin housing element workshops next week. Fairfax has already held a workshop hosted by the town’s affordable housing committee and will hold a joint Planning Commission and Town Council meeting Sept. 22.
Fairfax Planning and Building Services Director Ben Berto said, “There’s been widespread support for affordable housing in the discussion we’ve had so far. We’re focusing on what is called a ‘missing middle’ housing strategy.”
Berto wasn’t specific about that strategy, but said it recognizes the changing needs of homeowners, creating options such as duplexes, small complexes of multiple-unit housing and adding infill in residential neighborhoods “where appropriate.”
”We’re definitely committed to providing housing, it’s just a question of what level and what circumstances. We need to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for the town.”
By Julian Glover
Wednesday, July 21, 2021 9:00PM
To read the full story, click here.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC) is representing Cora Robinson and has filed its own complaints with HUD against the appraiser, the appraisal company, and the lenders. Ms. Robinson and FHANC allege housing discrimination due to race in the appraisal and lending process.
FHANC has issued a press release and the full complaints. There are available here.
If you feel you may have been discriminated against in a recent home appraisal, contact FHANC’s office to complete an interview. Contact FHANC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-457-5025 x101.
Caroline Peattie and Lewis Jordan
May 19, 2021 at 11:44 a.m.
When investigators posing as prospective tenants with housing subsidies inquired about rental housing during a recent fair housing investigation conducted by Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California they uncovered discriminatory policies and practices at over 80% of the Marin County properties investigated.
The findings were part of a recent report in the Marin Independent Journal (“Marin, North Bay rental discrimination persists, housing advocates report,” April 29).
According to the report, there were frequent misunderstandings about fair housing laws currently in place. Landlords also expressed doubts about the administration of the Section 8 program by Marin Housing Authority. As officials from the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California and the Marin Housing Authority, we would like to clarify the law and resources available to Marin County landlords and tenants.
FHANC is a nonprofit, fair housing organization that works to maximize housing opportunities for all people regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, disability, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age, ancestry, source of income or immigration status. Our mission is to ensure equal housing opportunity and to educate our communities on the value of diversity in our neighborhoods.
MHA is a public corporation with the mission to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing for low- and moderate-income people of Marin County.
FHANC has been in contact with landlords and managers who currently do not accept tenants with Section 8 vouchers, many of whom do not believe or understand that they are discriminating. However, refusal to rent to any applicants with Section 8 vouchers constitutes illegal source of income discrimination. Such a policy is out of compliance with state law.
Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, it is unlawful for a housing provider to discriminate in housing based on source of income, including refusing to rent, sell or lease a dwelling to a prospective tenant because of their source of income. It is part of the California Government Code.
In October 2019, the state Legislature passed bills SB 329 and SB 222; these two bills took effect on Jan. 1, 2020 and extended “source of income” protections to Section 8 and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher holders. Under these new protections, “source of income” protections now include “lawful, verifiable income paid directly to a tenant or to a representative of a tenant, or paid to a housing owner or landlord on behalf of a tenant,” according to the code. As such, it is unlawful for landlords to reject tenants simply due to their status as voucher holders.
Failure to comply with the Fair Employment and Housing Act would subject a housing provider to legal action or to disciplinary action by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Some landlords have expressed their reluctance to participate in the Section 8 program because of what they believe is an administrative burden and a difficult and unresponsive partnership.
However, MHA partners with more than 900 landlords. It has added more than 175 new landlords during the past few years. In addition, Marin Housing Authority has worked diligently with landlords to create a landlord partnership program to address the types of administrative problems housing providers normally cite as a deterrent. The goal of the partnership program is to expand rental opportunities for persons utilizing federal Section 8 vouchers. The aim of the program is to encourage new landlords to participate in the Section 8 program and to retain landlords that currently accept Section 8 vouchers through stronger partnerships.
The program offers the following financial services to property owners: security deposit assistance, funding for unit upgrades including accessibility upgrades, funding for affordable second unit creation, waived county permit and building fees for the creation of new rental units, loss mitigation pool and vacancy loss protection.
For further information on this program, please contact MHA at (415) 491-2525 or visit MHA’s website at MarinHousing.org. For more information about FHANC’s programs, visit FHANC’s website at FairHousingNorCal.org, or for fair housing counseling or to report housing discrimination, please call FHANC at (415) 457-5025.
Caroline Peattie is executive director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California. Lewis Jordan is executive director of the Marin Housing Authority.
By RICHARD HALSTEAD | email@example.com | 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.