Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California Releases Report of Investigation intoDiscriminatory Housing Policies Related to Source of Income and RaceAugust 26, 2022 \
August 26, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Caroline Peattie, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
(415) 483-7552, firstname.lastname@example.org
Announcing: Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California Releases Report of Investigation into Discriminatory Housing Policies Related to Source of Income and Race
San Rafael, CA – This month Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC) released a report of their investigation into discrimination against prospective Black housing choice voucher holders in Marin, Sonoma, and Solano counties. While discrimination on the basis of a renter’s source of income has been illegal in California for some time, it was not until 2020 that these protections were extended to voucher holders – most commonly people with Section 8 vouchers – who have historically experienced barriers to housing opportunity based on their voucher status as well as membership in other protected classes.
The investigation of sixty-nine (69) rental properties in the tri-county area was carried out from December 2021 through April 2022, with 27 properties in Marin County, 22 in Solano County, and 20 in Sonoma County. Trained pairs of testers – one Black, one white – posing as potential renters with housing choice vouchers, called to inquire about whether the property accepted Section 8 vouchers and, if so, whether voucher holders were required to meet a minimum income threshold in order to qualify for the unit. At over 70% of the housing providers FHANC tested, there was evidence of discrimination on the basis of race and/or source of income; with evidence of discrimination at 62% on the basis of source of income, and 42% on the basis of race.
Tests conducted in Sonoma County revealed the highest incidence of race discrimination (63%) and source of income discrimination (88%), with 92% revealing at least some evidence of either or both. Housing providers in Solano County evidenced the least discrimination, with 32% of tests revealing evidence of race discrimination and 44% revealing evidence of source of income discrimination.
Tests at large properties showed significantly less evidence of source of income discrimination (36%) than tests conducted at small and medium sized properties (both around 68%). Email and phone tests uncovered evidence of source of income discrimination at almost the exact same rate.
“The results of our investigation plainly show that despite the recent expansion of California’s fair housing laws protecting source of income, people with housing subsidies still face significant barriers in housing,” said Caroline Peattie, Executive Director of FHANC. “It’s clear that more enforcement actions are needed, as well as increased education and outreach to property owners and managers, particularly those of smaller properties and in areas where instances of discrimination were the highest. The fact that housing providers were willing to openly state their discriminatory voucher policies suggests that at least some may have been unaware of their legal obligations, which really points to the need for increased education and outreach.”
The report makes a number of recommendations, including disseminating the report to officials in the tri-county area as well as the general public, media, and advocacy groups as an important educational tool; monitoring the sites where there was an indication of differential treatment and taking possible enforcement action; training private and public housing providers (e.g. public housing authorities) and working with them to ensure they understand the law; conducting additional audits; assessing whether a public housing authority’s payment standards are at appropriate levels and increasing search times for voucher holders given the limited housing options and barriers they face; and spreading the word to potential targets of discrimination.
“It’s really difficult to find any kind of affordable housing in the Bay Area now,” said Peattie. “This report points out how much more difficult it is for someone who has a housing voucher to find a place to live – and for a Black renter with a housing voucher, it may feel impossible. We need to redouble our efforts to make sure housing providers not only understand the law but comply with it, and start removing barriers for those with housing subsidies.”
If you feel you may have experienced housing discrimination, contact FHANC’s office to complete an interview. Fill out an online intake form at or contact FHANC at email@example.com or call 415-457-5025 ext. 101.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure equal housing opportunity and to educate our communities on the value of diversity in our neighborhoods. FHANC serves several Bay Area counties and provides free counseling, enforcement, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to persons experiencing housing discrimination. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California also offers foreclosure prevention counseling, pre-purchase education, seminars to help housing providers fully understand fair housing law, and education programs for tenants and the community at large. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency. Please call Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California at (415) 457-5025 or TDD: (800) 735-2922 for more information. Note: This material is based on work supported by the Department of
August 23, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Julia Howard-Gibbon, Supervising Attorney, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
(415) 483-7516, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fair Housing Agency and Client Settle Discrimination Lawsuit Against Landlord
San Rafael, CA – Over 300,000 families in California receive Housing Choice Vouchers (also known as
“Section 8”) to ensure that lower-income renters can afford to live in a variety of neighborhoods, with the goal of limiting segregation and homelessness. However, to date, the voucher program has been unable to accomplish its goals in many jurisdictions due in large part to private landlords’ refusal to consider renting to people with housing vouchers.
In January 2020, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act was amended to make it illegal to discriminate against or exclude tenants and applicants because they have a Section 8 voucher. Additionally, for more than 20 years, it has been illegal for most California landlords to require applicants with vouchers to meet minimum thresholds based on the entire rent rather than the portion of the rent to be paid by the tenant.
Despite these laws, some landlords continue to exclude Section 8 voucher holders, either by rejecting them for tenancy altogether, or using a minimum income requirement that is impossible for a voucher holder to meet. Both of these policies and practices violate California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Late last month, the owners of two large apartment complexes and a management company agreed to pay
$100,000 to settle a case in which the plaintiffs, a fair housing agency and a prospective renter, alleged that the defendants refused to rent to Section 8 voucher holders unless they earn at least 2.5 times the entire monthly rent, even when the majority of rent is paid by the local Public Housing Authority. The payment covers damages and attorneys’ fees.
Other terms of the settlement included the following:
In early 2021, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court alleging that the owners and the management company had refused to rent to voucher holders by using an illegal minimum income standard in at least two of their Sonoma County properties. This minimum income requirement has the effect of excluding tenants who have vouchers.
The plaintiffs filed against two companies that hold title to apartment complexes located in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park and a California corporation that manages both properties as well as rental properties in 18 states, including hundreds of rental properties in California.
The individual plaintiff is a recipient of a Section 8 voucher through the Sonoma County Housing Authority. In June of 2020, she found a listing for an apartment complex in Rohnert Park on the website Zillow.com and thought that it might be a good fit for her needs. She drove by the apartments, liked what she saw, and called to inquire about a unit. When she spoke with the agent, she asked if they accepted housing choice vouchers. The agent told her that they accepted vouchers, but that she would need to have an income of at least $5,000 per month, or 2.5 times the rent. She explained to the agent that if she had income in that amount, then she would not have qualified for a Housing Choice Voucher in the first place. The employee responded that the $5,000 minimum income requirement was the apartment complex’s policy. The client lodged a complaint with a local fair housing agency.
In April 2020, before the individual plaintiff ever inquired about renting at this complex, the fair housing agency sent informational brochures explaining the new changes to the law to 50 housing providers and property managers in the region, including the management company named in the complaint. The informational brochure explained that rejecting rental applicants because they have a rental subsidy constitutes unlawful discrimination based on source of income. The brochure also reiterated that existing law, which has been in effect since 2000, provides that a landlord who uses a minimum income threshold for a voucher holder must calculate that threshold based on the amount of rent that will be paid by the tenant, rather than the entire rent amount.
After receiving the complaint from the voucher recipient, the fair housing agency conducted an investigation in September 2020, replicating the experience of their client. An employee of the fair housing agency contacted the apartment complex posing as a prospective renter. When the employee inquired about the Section 8 policy, an agent for the building told him that they accept Section 8, but only if the applicant has an income of at least 2.5 times the rent even if the applicant has a voucher.
In December 2020, an employee of the Sonoma County Housing Authority contacted the fair housing agency and reported that multiple voucher holders were rejected for tenancy by the same management company at a different apartment complex because they did not meet the building’s minimum monthly income requirement of 2.5 times the monthly rent, regardless of the amount of rent the tenant would be responsible for paying using their voucher. Based on this allegation, in January 2021, another employee of the fair housing agency called the apartment complex and the agent confirmed that the management company accepts vouchers but still requires that all applicants make a minimum of 2.5 times the full monthly rent to qualify.
The fair housing agency was represented by Julia Howard-Gibbon of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California and the individual plaintiff was represented by Liza Cristol-Deman of Brancart & Brancart.
“A landlord cannot reject an applicant using a minimum income requirement that is based on the entire monthly rent when the Public Housing Authority is picking up most of the tab,” said Ms. Cristol-Deman. “That has been the law in California for more than 20 years. A professional management company should know better. And California’s most vulnerable residents deserve better.”
“The defendants should have been well aware of their obligation not to discriminate against voucher holders, especially given that the fair housing agency had previously sent them information about the law and how to comply with it, yet the management company still had discriminatory policies in place,” said Ms. Howard-Gibbon. “Despite the fact that in 2020, California put in place a law making it illegal to discriminate against people with housing subsidies, the agency has conducted systemic investigations that pointed to the prevalence of discriminatory policies still in place, making it clear that we must all make more effort to educate the community that discrimination against housing choice vouchers is illegal.”
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a non-profit organization serving several Bay Area counties that provides free counseling, enforcement, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to persons experiencing housing discrimination. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California also offers foreclosure prevention counseling, pre-purchase education, seminars to help housing providers fully understand fair housing law, and education programs for tenants and the community at large. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency. Please call Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California at (415) 457-5025 or TDD: (800) 735-2922 for more information.