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.
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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.
By RICHARD HALSTEAD | firstname.lastname@example.org | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: February 9, 2021 at 6:17 p.m. | UPDATED: February 10, 2021 at 7:06 a.m.
Read the article here.
Marin County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to freeze rents in two census tracts facing greater impacts from the pandemic.
The freeze, which will expire Dec. 31, applies to census tract 1330 in western Marin and census tract 1290 in Marin City. The coastal tract includes Dillon Beach, Tomales, Marshall, Point Reyes Station and Nicasio.
“These two census tracts really bubbled to the top in the county of Marin,” Angela Nicholson, an assistant Marin County administrator, told supervisors. “Census tract 1330 has a comparatively higher risk of COVID-19, and in Marin City census tract 1290, there is a high potential of COVID impact due to overcrowding.”
The county’s move follows similar action taken recently by San Rafael and Novato.
Last month, San Rafael froze rents in two census tracts that include the city’s predominantly Latino Canal neighborhood. In tract 1122.01, Latino residents comprise 89% of the population; in tract 1122.02, 67%.
Novato followed suit a week later, freezing rents in three census tracts that have high coronavirus infection rates and overcrowded housing. The Latino population in those tracts range from 16%, the countywide average, to 33%.
The supervisors’ decision was hailed by the leaders of several community organizations advocating for renters.
“This last year has been chaotic for everyone but renters, essential workers, and immigrants have borne the brunt of the economic and health impacts,” said Sami Mericle, a representative of the Marin Organizing Committee, which lobbied hard for the rent freeze.
Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, said, “For people living in the two census tracts, many of whom are members of protected classes, the prospect of rent increase at this time is catastrophic.”
“Protecting renters who are disproportionately black and Latinx from displacement is one way of addressing some of the stark racial inequalities in the county,” Peattie said.
Lucie Hollingsworth, a senior attorney with Legal Aid of Marin, praised the supervisors for enacting the freeze, but said they should go further and ban all evictions in the county with the exception of those necessary to protect health and safety, as Sonoma County has done.
“At Legal Aid of Marin, we’ve seen 10 eviction notices just in the past two weeks,” Hollingsworth said. “All of these notices would be invalid in Sonoma County.”
However, Alex Khalfin, a spokesman for the California Apartment Association, said, “I strongly disagree with the notion that the proposed rent control measure will help tenants who are unable to pay rent.”
“Furthermore,” Khalfin said, “rent control policies are likely to have long-term negative impacts on the county’s ability to meet its housing goals.”
Khalfin called on the supervisors to require tenants to submit a declaration that they are experiencing economic hardship due to COVID-19 before being granted protection from rent increases. He also requested that the moratorium expire June 30, when a statewide moratorium on residential evictions is due to sunset, instead of Dec. 31.
Supervisor Damon Connolly said, “The fact is, overall rents are not increasing significantly in Marin right now. I think the average is about 1.8%.”
However, Connolly said the rent freeze was justified as a “prophylactic measure” to ensure that marginalized communities are protected as conditions change.
Marin County’s rent freeze will not apply to single-family dwellings, condominiums and apartments built after 1995 because of a state law that prohibits rent control on such properties.
Marin County Counsel Brian Washington confirmed Tuesday that the freeze will not affect tenants at Ridgeway Apartments in Marin City and similar properties with apartments that are deed-restricted to provide housing for low-income residents.
St. Anton Capital, which owns the 225-apartment complex, recently raised the rents of several of tenants.
Washington told supervisors, “The Tenant Protection Act, which allows California local entities to do rent control legislation, exempts low-income housing restricted by deed or agreement, so we are not able to apply this to Ridgeway.”
Written by Caroline Peattie, Executive Director
It has been a crushing week following isolating and dark months of the pandemic. We are reeling from the police brutality that led to the senseless murder of George Floyd, and the country has erupted in protest, not only because of his death, but also because of the killing of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, and countless other Black men and women who came before him. It is no coincidence that protests follow months of a pandemic that have brought into focus the very issues that so many have been fighting against: the racial disparities underlying the disproportionate occurrence of the virus and death rates among people of color. George Floyd lost his job as a result of this virus, reminding us of the deep inequities in our country — lack of access to housing of choice, health care, transportation, protections in the work place, and injustices that most affect people of color and vulnerable communities, not to mention an unequal criminal justice system that leads to mass detention and incarceration of Black men. Further, we now know that prisons are hotspots for outbreaks of COVID-19.
In these moments, I am reminded of how these injustices connect to the work my colleagues and I undertake daily, and how we as a community can and should respond. Our collective work is pivotal to the response. Housing is a key part of the struggle.
What can we do? This is a question that has plagued and pained many of us not just in these last weeks, but for decades. The news has been soul-crushing, particularly when, instead of exhibiting any understanding or leadership, Trump calls for a militarized response to peaceful protesters with the infamous words, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” repeating a 1967 quote from a white police chief cracking down on protests and other segregationist politicians.
I remind myself how important it is for us to make our voices heard — whether by shouting George Floyd’s name, joining protesters, posting on social media, reaching out to our local, state, and national representatives with our voices and our votes — working in any way we can to dismantle the structural racism that allows tragedies like the killing of George Floyd and others, and fails to hold police and leaders accountable. Amplifying the message, so everyone hears and understands: Black Lives Matter. I am recommitting myself to anti-racist work. I live in a county where most people are white, and many who live here don’t understand the history of institutionalized racialism, and the multiplicity of ways in which our whiteness allows us privilege that we don’t even have to think about; whereas many of our Black and Brown friends and colleagues are confronted by the lack of them daily. As a white person, it’s my job to work hard to change that. For white members of our community who want to know what they can do, right now, start with something from this list: https://bit.ly/370uzO0.
We know that our country’s racist housing policies are directly connected to racial inequities and to the disinvestment and over-policing of Black and Brown communities. We at Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California recommit ourselves to our work to address structural racism and the racial disparities resulting from segregation and discrimination. This includes taking a serious look at how we do our work, how we can become more effective as individuals and as institutions, and how we can partner with others in more inclusive, meaningful, and powerful ways. I invite you to join me in this work.
Written by Caroline Peattie, Executive Director
In the midst of the pandemic and two days after the killing of George Floyd, the world lost a fair housing warrior and I lost a dear friend. Nancy Kenyon passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family last week.
When I first met Nancy almost 3 decades ago, I was the Executive Director of a fair housing agency in Oakland. We immediately hit it off and began working together on a shared project. It was a wonderful collaboration and I was extremely impressed with Nancy’s energy and vibrant personality.
Nancy managed, in a small organization, to retain many highly competent and committed staff members for years, and in many cases, well over a decade — probably because of the outstanding qualities that she exuded as a person, as well as the easy, yet caring and committed work environment she created to inspire others.
As one long-time staffer said, “What I most appreciate about Nancy is her deep belief in justice and civil rights and her willingness to defend these beliefs, her ability to look at obstacles as challenges,” — and I would add, “opportunities”— “the connections she easily makes with diverse groups of people of all ages, her gracious and relaxed leadership style, her adventurousness and love of life.”
Nancy saw the humanity in people and really listened to people’s stories about themselves, and this manifested in the workplace in a variety of ways — including allowing for flexibility in schedules and work styles. It’s no wonder that she had a number of working mothers on her staff over time, because she allowed them to reach their working potential and be mothers, too. When, shortly after beginning my tenure at the agency, my 18-month-old baby was diagnosed with diabetes and hospitalized, Nancy couldn’t have been more supportive. That support continued through the years as I raised a child with special needs. Her love of her own family — and she was so proud of her kids! — expanded to include her extended work family; we responded with loyalty and respect.
Nancy remained an unabashed hippie over the decades, and she represented some of the best things about the 1960s – a certain kind of openness, optimism, and passion for activism. Her experience working on civil rights issues before there were the laws to back up those rights gave her a rare perspective.
Intrepid traveler that she was, her adventurous spirit took her wandering all over the world. She returned refreshed, regaling us with tales of her adventures. She was an avid birder and loved nature.
Nancy also had colorful stories to tell of her earlier years – being arrested for blocking a train carrying munitions (and even in prison, of course, they all took care of one another); working in New Jersey at a housing rights agency, where she and other staff told members of the mafia what they were doing wrong as landlords, then quaking with fear that their cars would explode when they turned the key in the ignition that night.
Perhaps it was some of these early experiences that helped shape some of her toughness. It took some doing to begin her fair housing work as a small program in 1982 that was part of a much larger umbrella organization, and then build it into the thriving and multi-faceted organization it became. Although we often heard Nancy’s peals of laughter ringing through the agency, there were times when she was tough as nails. She was not only the founder of our fair housing agency, but she was also a founding member and board member of the National Fair Housing Alliance, the sole national organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing.
It has been an honor to follow in her footsteps. Nancy Kenyon will be sorely missed. I am only one of many she touched deeply.
Because of Covid-19 the family will not hold a celebration of life until a future date; if anyone has photos or stories please send them to her children at email@example.com or mail to 1375 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117 or give them a call at 415-592-4581. If anyone is interested in making a donation in her name, please give to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.