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It’s time to stop discrimination against Section 8 renters

Two key Minneapolis City Council committees will hold a joint meeting Wednesday, March 22 to consider a proposed ordinance that expands important civil rights protections for thousands of low-income renters.

Eric Hauge

The proposed ordinance prohibits discrimination against tenants with a rental subsidy, such as Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Unfortunately, “we don’t take Section 8” has for decades been code for discrimination based on race or disability, contributing to housing segregation and limiting opportunities for low-income families.

There are 58 jurisdictions nationwide that specifically prohibit source of income discrimination, or specifically reference Section 8, including nine states and 49 counties or cities. Hawaii, Maryland and New York are currently seeking to enact statewide prohibitions.

Opening up housing options throughout the city is a civil rights issue that affirmatively furthers fair housing. In 2016, 85 percent of Minneapolis voucher households were people of color, 78 percent were headed by females, 15 percent were elderly and 40 percent disabled. Of the more than 17,000 Minneapolis residents served by the program, 53 percent are children. Meanwhile, 46 percent of households are employed, and the average income for those households is about $21,000.

Ramifications of being turned away

Lael Robertson

When renters are turned away because of their subsidy, they are often forced to move to neighborhoods away from family, schools or services and can lose their subsidy altogether if unable to find a landlord to accept it. When families are uprooted and move involuntarily, it contributes to high student mobility rates that are detrimental to academic success. Housing instability can precipitate declines in health, economic security and many other social factors.

Our policymakers have done their homework: Contrary to claims that this ordinance will increase segregation, federal studies demonstrate such laws make it easier to move into neighborhoods with access to greater opportunities and that voucher holders were substantially more often able to use their vouchers in communities with discrimination protections compared to those without.

Additionally, both the city and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority have begun moving forward and committed to specific timelines on ways to make the program work better for all parties, including improving mobility and streamlining inspections. These efforts will address many of the concerns of housing providers, while still ensuring the conditions in which our neighbors live are held to appropriate standards.

Opponents claim the proposal would destabilize the rental market and lead to rent increases. However, Section 8 voucher holders represent only about 6 percent of the rental market in Minneapolis.

What the ordinance means

Critics also label the ordinance another “Minneapolis mandate.” This proposal, however, does not force a landlord to rent to a voucher holder. It simply means the landlord cannot treat them differently from other prospective tenants because they use a voucher to help pay rent. A landlord will not be required to rent to a voucher holder if he or she doesn’t meet other typical requirements.

The Section 8 anti-discrimination ordinance gives voucher holders a fair shake at rental options, allowing for more geographic choices, better access to decent, safe housing, and further stability once they are adequately housed.

Comprehensive regional approaches need to start somewhere. Minneapolis can be a pioneer for other cities and counties in tackling historical, systemic housing segregation by enacting policies like this that foster equitable and inclusive housing patterns.

Eric Hauge is the director of organizing and public policy at HOME Line and Lael Robertson is an attorney with the Housing Justice Center. A large coalition of organizations has endorsed this proposed ordinance, including:

African American Leadership Forum
African Immigrants Community Service
The Alliance TC
Alliance Housing, Inc.
Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota
Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness
Gary Cunningham, Metropolitan Council member District 7 and Co-Chair of the African-American Leadership Forum
Housing Justice Center
InquilinXs UnidXs por Justicia
Jewish Community Action
Ka Joog
Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers
Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
New American Development Center
Project for Pride in Living, Inc.
Somali American Parent Association

Want to add your voice?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/21/2017 - 09:47 am.

    I agree with the intent, but…

    I agree with the intent, but I think there needs to be significant clarity around the policy nuance on this issue. It seems like the City is intent on making that happen, but so far the details have been sparse.

    I have been a Section 8 landlord before. Before we instructed our property manager to go through the Section 8 process for one of our units, we simply listed our property the way all properties are listed in compliance with Fair Housing Act and all other rules and regulations. As long as a tenant wasn’t paying me on the proceeds of illegal activity happening on my property, I could care less how they had enough money to ensure their rent check cleared. By extension, it seems like Universal Basic Income or other policies would help with accessibility on the demand side, and it would be transparent to the landlord.

    There are a number of hoops one has to go through to make a dwelling available via Section 8 vouchers. Will we require landlords to jump through these extra hoops? Will we require them to have rental inspections from both the City and from HUD? More critically, will we require landlords to accept HUD-approved rents rather than market-rate rents?

    We’re in a thriving and high-demand city, with thousands of new residents pouring in each year. This is a good problem to have, but affordability is compromised when housing supply increase is vastly outstripped by housing demand increase. To that end, I’m interested in developing new properties to accommodate just a sliver of those new residents, thereby preserving existing naturally occurring affordable housing elsewhere in our neighborhoods. We need to encourage the construction of as many housing units as possible with as little displacement of existing units as possible. Yes, I’d even support more apartments on my R1A-zoned block. We need to upzone our city, further eliminate parking minimums, introduce a Traditional Neighborhood Development primary zoning district, and do whatever else we can to encourage new construction of housing.

    While I agree with the intent of this Section 8 proposal and think there’s a chance it could work with the proper policy nuance, I think we need to tread carefully to ensure we don’t end up destroying housing supply growth with unintended consequences. Other cities are struggling with the unintended policy consequences of good-headed changes – for example, even the Sightline Institute has been critical of how Seattle has implemented Inclusionary Zoning. We could end up making things less affordable in the aggregate.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/21/2017 - 10:07 am.

      Since I wrote this comment

      Since I wrote this, CM Glidden has clarified a few things on the proposed ordinance. “It absolutely does not have any impact on a landlord’s business decision of where and how to set rent.” She also noted MPHA committing to improvements to program administration and the inspection/compliance regime. If those items are covered, it seems more promising. I still stand behind UBI being a better and more transparent way to help people, but UBI is obviously not something Minneapolis can do on its own.

  2. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 03/21/2017 - 11:03 am.


    No one had asked us about it, but the Legal Rights Center joins the organizations listed as supporting this ordinance.

    Michael Friedman
    Executive Director
    Legal Rights Center

  3. Submitted by David Markle on 03/21/2017 - 12:27 pm.

    Clarification, please

    I’ve been under the impression that it’s already illegal to discriminate against an individual based on status re public assistance. Perhaps the authors could clarify this point.

  4. Submitted by corey jacob on 03/21/2017 - 01:15 pm.

    problem goes way deeper than section 8

    it has to with how high landlords set their rents.

    Landlords can discriminate by: essentially locking entire segments, like myself who is disabled “SSDI extreme poverty”, out of the Fair market value rentals. Example set the rates for efficiencies so that it eats 3/4 of someone who is right at the extreme poverty line of say $11,800 per year. OR set the rate so high that even with the voucher its no where near what the landlord wants thus justifying saying no to the voucher holder.

    By doing this I fail the back ground check of not exceeding XX% of your income to housing rent.

    Its just another form of discrimination that has the exact same effect as saying we don’t take section 8 vouchers here.

    problem is the project section 8 is no better because of the extreme long wait to get into one of those units. because there is an extreme shortage of units available.

    The only true way to fix this rental crisis discrimination ,is to change the class of business housing comes under. That it can not be run like other for profit businesses. since housing is probably one of the Most critical necessities in life.

    Housing should be treated like infrastructure if its rented out.

    There are reasons to have regulations to regulate by establishing what constitutes bad behavior that harms your fellows around you. like getting too greedy when setting your rent rates.

  5. Submitted by Michael Hess on 03/21/2017 - 02:37 pm.

    Adverse Impact

    I wonder if the authors could comment about the potential Adverse Impact aspects of this change.

    For example – if the landlords use other factors to make rental decisions like income or credit history, and those criteria predominantly block people who are also wanting to use a Section 8 voucher do those landlords become susceptible to a claim that these criteria are unfair because they predominately rule out this group of people?

    Not a landlord but just curious about other consequences of this change and how those scenarios have been thought about.

    And while it may seem like a stretch, don’t forget there is a community bank in the far western suburbs being sued because they don’t serve enough minority customers in the central cities – not that they have been shown to be discriminatory in any ways, but their geographic base of business is unsatisfactorily diverse for the DOJ…..causing an Adverse impact on minority populations.

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