Minneapolis Council to consider Section 8 anti-discrimination law

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
City officials briefed the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority about the proposed ordinance.

Three Minneapolis City Council members are moving ahead with an ordinance to protect people who use housing vouchers from discrimination by landlords.

Wednesday, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and other city officials briefed the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority about the proposed ordinance. The law would amend existing city civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in real estate by adding “status with regard to public assistance, or any requirement of a public assistance program” to the list of factors that a landlord can’t use when making decisions in choosing tenants. The ordinance includes Housing Choice Vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8, in the definition of “public assistance program.”

If the ordinance were to pass — and Glidden said she thinks she has a majority of support on council — building owners and managers in Minneapolis would no longer be allowed to have blanket prohibitions against people who use the federally funded but locally administered Housing Choice Vouchers. If two applicants met all other criteria, such as rental history or past conduct, the landlord could not use the form of payment as a reason not to rent an apartment to a voucher holder.

The other sponsors of the ordinance are Council Members Abdi Warsame and Lisa Goodman. Glidden expected it to reach the public hearing stage by mid-March.

Glidden emphasized that the ordinance does not mandate that all rental businesses take part in the Housing Choice Voucher program, which by federal law is voluntary. “Having an anti-discrimination ordinance does not mean there is a requirement that all landlords have to accept housing choice vouchers,” Glidden said.

That may be a difference without a distinction for landlords, however. “We’re extremely surprised that Council Member Glidden has taken no public input, ignored the concerns of housing providers and still wants to force this upon over 200,000 Minneapolis residents without a transparent public process,” Mary Rippe, president of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, said in a statement. “After nearly a year of saying she’s working on it, she now acknowledges there are no substantial changes in the proposal that was unworkable early last year. This will cause major disruption to a historically stable rental market.”

As drafted, the ordinance creates a way for building owners to claim that accepting a voucher would pose an “undue hardship,” but that in and of itself wouldn’t be enough for a landlord to not comply with the law. The civil rights department would draft rules and make determinations of what “undue hardship” entails. The ordinance would not apply to people who rent rooms in their home; to owner-occupied duplexes; or to people who temporarily rent out their primary residence.

Danielle Shelton Walczak, the director of the complaint investigations division of the city civil rights department, said the ordinance expresses a policy that voucher holders in Minneapolis should be on equal footing with those paying with cash when under consideration to rent housing. “What we see is complete blanket prohibitions, like when you go into craigslist and it says ‘No Section 8,’ and we want that to end,” Walczak said. “If you have someone with a viable source of income, which is Section 8, you should consider them just as you would another applicant. It isn’t a mandate to take Section 8, but it is a requirement to at least consider.”

Spreading the use of vouchers

The voucher ordinance is part of a broader attempt by both the council and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to expand the geography where housing choice vouchers are used in the city — a reaction to complaints by some on the council that North Minneapolis and the areas east of downtown absorb more than their share of low-income housing 

Currently, the housing authority’s 5,076 vouchers are concentrated in areas of poverty in city wards 3, 4 and 6. The average income for voucher holders is $14,470, and the waiting list to get into the program exceeds 2,500.

Council Member Barbara Johnson
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Council Member Barbara Johnson

Council President Barbara Johnson, who represents Ward 4 in north Minneapolis, has complained to the authority that it concentrates too much of the city’s low-income housing in North Minneapolis. She said Wednesday she would like to support Glidden’s proposed ordinance as a means of spreading the subsidized housing around the entire city.

“The program itself gets a negative vibe from the community when there are challenges with the landlords and some of the tenants who use the program,” Johnson said. “If I had a listening session about whether we should expand Section 8, my constituents would show up and say ‘Are you kidding?’ It is perceived as a program that is harming single-family neighborhoods.”

Another reason given for increasing the ability to use vouchers across the city and region is that studies indicate that people — especially children — have better outcomes if they live in areas with better schools, lower crime and better employment opportunities.

“Research shows that comprehensive mobility counseling programs result in program participants gaining access to neighborhoods that are safer, healthier, have better schools and numerous other positive attributes,” reported a study by Quadel Consulting of Washington, D.C., that was commissioned by the Family Housing Fund of Minneapolis.

The study, presented to the housing authority Wednesday, suggested ways for the authority to do more in promoting housing mobility for voucher holders to live in what are termed “opportunity areas.”

City considers creating damage fund

There is pushback to the proposal by voucher holders and some low-income housing advocates, however. They fear such policies will lead to disinvestment in areas with high-concentrations of poverty — neighborhoods that have issues related to education, crime and poverty but that are also historic and cultural hubs for both longstanding and recently arrived communities.

Glidden said her ordinance, which she and Council Member Abdi Warsame have been working on for three years, was in response to complaints that it was difficult for some voucher holders to find apartments that would accept them. Advocates for low-income renters, such as HOME Line and Legal Aid, have identified impediments that keep voucher holders from finding suitable housing in other parts of the city, including high rents. But another reason is that landlords who don’t have blanket prohibitions against accepting vouchers are concentrated in lower-income areas of the city.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden

In addition to boosting the use of vouchers to enhance mobility, the Quadel report suggested the authority look for opportunities to use what are termed “project-based vouchers” to provide more inventory in parts of the city and region that have an undersupply of affordable housing. Unlike housing choice vouchers, which are used by individuals to cover rent payments, project-based vouchers are paid to the building owner in exchange for maintaining units with affordable rents.

The report also proposed setting rent limits based on neighborhoods rather than citywide. That would permit the authority to increase the reimbursement in neighborhoods where rents are generally higher than the citywide average.

Both the city and authority are also looking for ways to ease the burden of housing inspections on those that accept Section 8 vouchers. Landlords who do not take part in the program often mention the hassles and delays caused by the inspections, which must be done before a voucher holder rents an apartment.

Though not yet in ordinance form, Minneapolis is further considering creating a fund that would reimburse landlords for damage to units that exceeds the damage deposit on the unit. Andrea Brennan, the city’s director of housing policy and development, said that is in response to a perception by some landlords that voucher holders are more likely to damage units.

“The data doesn’t support that — that Section 8 voucher holders create more damage — than any other renter of units,” she said. But as a way to encourage reluctant landlords to volunteer to work with the program, the fund would provide some assurances that they wouldn’t be harmed financially.

Greg Russ, the new director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said there was a similar program in his previous job in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that also reimbursed for losses from keeping units vacant while waiting for inspections.

“You really have a chance to come into the program with some confidence,” Russ said of landlords, even if the fund was rarely tapped into. Cambridge, he said, has 4,000 vouchers, but processed only four or five damage claims each year.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/23/2017 - 11:41 am.

    We’re going to miss CM Glidden!

    The city of Minneapolis is obviously thinking seriously about how to address problems surrounding not simply the broad category of “affordable housing,” but specifically, Section 8 housing subsidies. They are are trying to find ways to eliminate landlord refusal to rent to “certain people.” And they are being flexible and sensible.

    This is the kind of work that brightens one’s day to hear about!

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 02/23/2017 - 12:12 pm.

    Revealing the why of not renting to those paying with Section 8

    There are two obvious, but not very acceptable reasons for not renting via Section 8 payment, when renters don’t have problem rental histories – 1) . Discrimination based on race or poverty and 2) Fear of having too high a percentage of tenants that other renters dislike for the same reasons. The first is intolerable. As poor people are allowed to rent more widely, the issue of concentration be alleviated.

    Of course, this would work better if the legislature would address the issue, but with Republicans, the focus will be on resisting efforts to loosen discriminaton restricts, not tightenng them.

    Maintaining housing is an issue shared between owner and renter. With low income housing, too often we hear reports that property owners do not provide well maintained housing, which is probably part of the reason why they are inspected, as low income people don’t have as many options when this allowed to slip.

    With those with low incomes, do they have the cash and tools to do minor repairs or spend on things like curtains and cleaning products? If not, that is a technical problem that can be handled via the housing voucher and free instruction on basic home maintenance..

    Likewise, property owners do need to be made whole if damage to property is so extensive that the damage deposit doesn’t cover it. There needs to be a public process to hear and pay their claims. As they are helping society by housng the poor, this deserves tax support.

    What is most frustratingis when business is so fearful that they refuse to air their fears and concerns and negotiation solutions. If we want to end homelessness, everyone needs to pitch in.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/23/2017 - 02:50 pm.

    Between the lines, sort of

    Instead of “… This will cause major disruption to a historically stable rental market,” I’m going to guess that what Ms. Rippe should have said, but can’t, for obvious reasons, is “…This will cause major disruption to the stability of a historically segregated rental housing market.” Saying it that way, of course, would have cast at least some landlords, realtors, developers and public officials in a negative, but likely far more accurate, light.

    When I was a planning commissioner in a Colorado city, we got development proposals with some frequency that revolved around mixed-use (“use” meaning land use) housing that combined single-family and multi-family housing. In that context, we once got a letter from an irate citizen (an affluent, white, single-family homeowner), asserting with absolute conviction that, “…first come the apartments, then come the crime and the slums.” That’s the attitude implied by much of the resistance to Section 8 housing here. I certainly agree that landlords ought to be compensated when damage repair costs exceed damage deposits, but it’s also worth noting that the research doesn’t support the common notion that the poor damage their rented housing more frequently and/or to a greater degree than those who aren’t poor. Whether someone is receiving Section 8 assistance ought not to be a valid consideration in making a decision about whether or not to rent to that person or family.

    We’ve moved from a society in which the poor are perceived as unfortunate to a society in which the poor are perceived as inferior human beings. It’s not accurate, not ethical, and certainly not according to Scripture, regardless of the Scripture being relied upon.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/23/2017 - 03:37 pm.

    Barb nailed it!

    Right now it is concentrated poverty and minority neighborhoods where the section 8’s go. Its our best guess because the county won’t tell you.
    All we are asking is other communities do their fair share, seems most of them their fair share is ~ “0”.

  5. Submitted by Alex Bauman on 02/23/2017 - 03:56 pm.

    First, it is a disservice to reprint Barb Johnson’s ignorant accusation that MPHA “concentrates too much of the city’s low-income housing in North Minneapolis”. MPHA, by Federal law, cannot control where its voucher holders find housing. That’s why it’s called a Housing Choice Voucher. The mechanics of the program require that participants find relatively cheap housing in any given market. Where is the cheaper housing in Minneapolis, Barb? Why not use rent control to raise rents in your Ward, Barb? That’d get rid of the “Section 8” people (we all know what that is code for, Barb).

    Second, strange that there is no mention of MPHA’s mobility program, which was developed specifically to assist families in finding housing in areas of the city that aren’t concentrated by poverty. This program already fulfills requirements of the Quadel report such as “setting rent limits based on neighborhoods rather than citywide” (or did a few years ago when I last looked into it).

    Third, I’m guessing that by “Legal Aide” the reporter means Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

  6. Submitted by lindalee soderstrom on 02/24/2017 - 04:03 pm.

    toothless ordinance

    Yes Landlords may be required to leave out the words ~ “Section 8 Need NOT Apply” but until fair and affordable, desireable and sustainable units are found and welcomed and maintained everywhere, this remains a totally toothless ordinance. If section8 sets its program limits at $855-895 for a one bedroom and $905-945 for a two bedroom, in any given location….. A Landlord can and will simply set the rents at $896 & $946….. & Joila!! (Landlord) Mission Accomplished. No more poor, working poor, disabled, recipients, ethnically diverse or other protected classes. As Soderberg, a flashy braggartly developer’s firm has said:
    “Section8 is a voluntary program and we.re Not Volunteering”. Erik Falkman. SAS. Nov 15, 2015 regards the Crossroads to Concierge conversion in Richfield. MN. Champion renov8tr Soderberg himself ~ and Yes that’s his Tesla.s vanity plate ~ calls poor folks ‘undesireables’, The Jerry Springer (vs the Caribou) crowd and believes poverty equates with criminality, deeming people on programs to be gang members, drug dealers and prostitutes.

    • Submitted by David Moore on 03/20/2017 - 03:44 pm.

      Section 8 Ordinance in Minneapolis

      Exactly. So well stated. The max HUD rates are so far below market…this ordinance accomplishes nothing. Well stated.

  7. Submitted by Celia Lwren on 03/22/2017 - 07:18 pm.

    Re-writing What Already Exists

    The underlying problems to Affordable Housing will not be fixxed by adding clauses to existing federal laws. Landlords who do accept vouchers time and again carry the load in repairs when tenants who move out mid-lease or who do not have their leases renewed because of not following the rules set forth in the lease to begin with.

    1st – single family houses are not good candidates for rental Housing. Far to often lawns do not get mowed. Salt is not regularly put into water softners damaging plumbing and filters are not regularly changed reducing the life span of the furnace. The person who bears the responsability of the fines from the City of Minneapolis are the landlords.

    2nd – this legislation opens the door to rent controls. Already a stable property will maybe show an 8% profit yearly after normal upkeep. When a tenant does damage in excess of the damage deposit that comes to the owner to pay the bill. With an angry tenant holes in the sheetrock and water bills in excess of thousands of dollars due to faucets being left on to retaliate again go to the property owner. This legislation calls for the landlord getting a judgement in small claims court. 1st the defendant has to be found to go to court. After they are found if the person is receiving federal funds SSDI, SSI, GA those funds can not be levied against to recover the judgement. So the owner/landlord is the one holding the bag.

    3rd – When a person has no investment in what they have of their own creation, they have no incentive to maintain what they have. When there is always another back up for furniture, housing, etc. Then the person has no incentive to maintain the furniture, housing they have already been given without having to earn it.

    There is a misconception that the landlord/owner is living in the lap of luxury off of owning rental properties.

    Continuing to develop programs to bury people further into the system is destructive and where does the money keep coming from? As members of MHA and proud of the authenticity of the brownstones built in 1916 I cried today realizing the path that Minneapolis is taking which looks like one of more demonetization of rental properties owners is striking the impetus to sell the family buildings that have been in our family for near a century one of necessity. 3 generations have kept the brownstone in excellent repair and as true to the building heritage as possible.

    Rents across the City reflect the taxes that are imposed. North Minneapolis continues to be able to have rents that are more affordable/profitable because the taxes are 5 times lower than what we pay in South Minneapolis.

    For those applauding this action, I would imagine that these are not rental property owners. They do not go through the selection process of a good tenant and are not called racist when they will not rent to someone who is carrying a voucher and there is no recourse to damages. and if that voucher carrying renter damages the property or skips out on 2-3-4 months rent and leaves behind a crazy water bill in retaliation the property owner has to pay it.

    If the property owners who do chose to take vouchers are concentrated in Barb’s part of the City it is because their over head is not as high and they are better able to afford excessive damages.

    And to say these districts are the only ones who take vouchers is just wrong information. Many other cities offer a percentage of their buildings to sec. 8 – Housing vouchers. Most Landlords these days require income of 2.5 – 3 times the rent. When tenants are required to pay 30% of the rent and if they don’t pay it they have a more lengthy process of eviction and then a charity steps in at the last minute and pays the absent rent and fees and it starts all over again this gets draining on one’s nerves and finances.

    The need is not for new wording of the laws already in place. The need is for renter education and responsibility. If you get a UD a new landlord does not want to enter into that risk and the person who got the UD needs to step up and take responsibility for their irresponsibility. Quit demonizing landlords and put responsibility where it should lay, in the laps of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation women who have multiple children without a job that can support them. No dad’s in the picture. Work for a come back of family and a lot of these struggling single parents with multiple children would not need subsidized Housing. If you can’t afford to provide a home for your children, don’t have them.

  8. Submitted by David Moore on 03/20/2017 - 03:43 pm.

    Section 8 Ordinance in Minneapolis

    I am a landlord who rents to two tenants on section 8, and they are great tenants. But I want to draw attention to the faulty conclusion drawn by Angela Brennan, as to why landlords don’t want to rent to section 8 tenants, because of ‘the perception they cause more damage’. The amount of damage they can cause is not the issue. The issue is that section 8 tenants don’t have the financial means to compensate the landlord for the damage in excess of the damage deposit. That’s the issue.

    If my section 8 tenant trashes the place, I have no recourse to collect, because HUD’s own faulty program does not compensate landlords for the damages caused by the tenants. That is the crux of the problem. It is the weakness, and frankly, incompetent management by HUD in the first place that makes landlords run for the hills.

    Do you really think a guaranteed rent check and a long term tenant are a turn off for a landlord? Get real. And the approval process for a voucher is endless. HUD is so slow. Fix the program, instead of blaming landlords.

    This ordinance will solve nothing.

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