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It’s time to stop discrimination against Section 8 renters

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.

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.

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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
HOME Line
Housing Justice Center
Isuroon
ISAIAH
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 salbright@minnpost.com.)