Akron invoice may shield Part Eight renters from discrimination

Mayor Dan Horrigan’s government will attempt on Monday for the fifth time to get the public and council to support a largely misunderstood anti-discrimination law.

The “source of income” legislation aims to prohibit discrimination against people who use public subsidies to pay for their housing.

Landlords and real estate investors dominated an hour of public commentary at a meeting this week, criticizing tenants’ personal financial choices in Section 8, telling how renters with vouchers are mistreating their properties. Landlords criticized the proposed bill for potentially compelling them to participate in the voluntary Section 8 program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and operated locally by the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA).

However, the new city law would still allow landlords to refuse renting to voucher holders for other reasons, from whether they have pets or smoke to factors that researchers say they receive from renters receiving housing benefits , more common, such as an eviction in the past three years, low credit scores, or low wages.

Some councilors said they thought the source of income would only prevent landlords from advertising that they would not accept vouchers for housing. While this would be an obvious breach of the new regime, the Council eventually concluded that the law would prevent a landlord from denying the tenant an apartment with a voucher while he / she was transferring to another person with the same income level, with the same eviction balance sheet and the same creditworthiness but does not rent a residential voucher.

As written, the proposed legislation would not change the city’s regulatory code addressing discrimination in housing. Instead, individuals trying to pay for services with “public assistance” – housing vouchers, veterans and retirement benefits, rental benefits, social security, and others – would be protected by the city’s extensive anti-discrimination laws, which currently cover race, religion, gender, disability, marital status , Age, sexual orientation, and more.

While the new law was introduced by the Mayor through the Council’s Housing and Neighborhood Assistance Committee, and so far the discussion and testimony has focused only on the ramifications for Akron’s private rental market, a new protected class would be created based on the source of income Make It is illegal for any private company to turn away customers simply because they are paying with public support.

“That’s broad enough to say, for example, that a grocery store can’t refuse to sell groceries to someone who is on the grocery branding program or has WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) benefits,” said Jonathan Entin, Professor Emeritus of Law and Associate Professor of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University. “I think it goes so far.”

Jonathan Entin, Professor of Law and Political Science at Case Western Reserve University

After the Beacon Journal polled the city about the intent of the law, the mayor’s office said a change will be introduced on Monday to limit protections to real estate transactions, including leases. The city’s legal department modeled current legislation on similar bills passed in other cities and states.

Horrigan is also pushing the formation of a landlord’s council that he wanted to form last year before the pandemic. The Council would allow controversial voices to resolve complex issues.

Akron is also considering capping late rental fees

Meanwhile, Akron City Council is also considering a second, less controversial proposal from the administration that will offer tenants legal defense to prevent eviction if they all come up with their rent back and fees. This legislation, written in response to the exacerbated impact of the pandemic on America’s “ongoing housing crisis”, would – like the source of the income statement – constitute a permanent change to the city code if passed.

The proposal to pay for the stay limits late payment fees to 5%, which the city said will increase to 8% in a change expected on Monday.

The bills have revealed a rift of misunderstandings between landlords, tenants, lawmakers, and the public. It will likely take another week for the council to take into account the final changes arriving on Monday.

Historical segregation according to race, income

As a board member for the past nine years at the Fair Housing Center for Race and Research in Cleveland, Entin has supported anti-discrimination protection for tenants with vouchers.

Congress approved the Section 8 program in 1974 to help low-income Americans with rent. The support flowed into project-based living that concentrated poverty and disproportionately separated black and minority participants in the program.

In 1983, Congress created the Housing Voucher option to remove the separation of the program. Renters pay 30% of their adjusted income and the voucher pays the rest of the rent if a landlord accepts.

However, decades of research show that voucher mobility – or the ability to find Section 8 apartments in a neighborhood of the recipient’s choice – has been restricted by private landlords who refuse to participate in the voluntary federal program. Coupled with negative past experiences, landlords say they don’t want the hassle or expense associated with the required house inspections, paperwork, and repairs of the program, such as reducing lead paint.

Proponents of source of income legislation today see landlords’ lack of participation in Section 8 as a substitute for racial discrimination. Less than 30% of the 5,314 Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority voucher customers are white – in a county where 78% of residents are white. AMHA Assistant Director Debbie Barry, who oversees the voucher program, said 80% of voucher customers are “extremely low income” and 82% are women listed as heads of households, which often include young children.

And 67% are black compared to 15% of the county or 30% of Akron residents, according to the US Census Bureau.

One of the most comprehensive studies of source of income laws was commissioned by the HUD Office of Policy Development and Research in 2011. Columbia University professor Lance Freeman compared results from voucher recipients before and after the income source laws went into effect. With the law in force, he found that recipients had a 4 to 11% better chance of using their voucher. The apartments they found were in neighborhoods with neighbors 15-22% more likely to be white.

Why cities are a source of income

According to a listing updated this month by the Poverty & Race Research Council, a national organization, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legislated sources of income, and 12 Ohio municipalities: Toledo, Cincinnati, and Columbus; Bexley, Reynoldsburg, and Westerville in Franklin Counties; Cleveland Heights, Linndale, South Euclid, University Heights, and Warrensville Heights in Cuyahoga Counties; and Wickliffe in Lake County.

Katie Fallon, director of housing policy for the Ohio Housing Finance Agency

In four states, anti-discrimination laws exclude or do not fully cover recipients of residential vouchers.

Legislation is gaining traction in Ohio, most recently in the Columbus suburbs. Reversing the history of the racial and income segregation voucher program is also attracting interest to other communities, including Cleveland and Akron, said Katie Fallon, director of housing policy at Ohio Housing Finance Agency, an independent state agency focused on affordable housing.

“A lot of neighborhoods are critical of it and say, ‘Well, we don’t want Bexley to be cut off from people who might live in this type of neighborhood because studies generally show you have a higher chance of living in the neighborhood You’re much more likely to get lifelong positive results, especially if you’re there before age 13, “said Fallon, who has a PhD in sociology. “You are much more likely to have a higher lifetime income, more likely to go to college, and also have a higher annual income.”

How Akron’s Law would work

Enforcing source of income laws can be difficult, experts say.

It is of the utmost importance that an individual commission or court deal with discrimination complaints so that the impact of the program can be monitored and measured. Many cities lack the collection or public reporting of data, Fallon said.

Ellen Lander Nischt, press secretary and strategic legal advisor to Mayor Horrigan, said this week that the proposed bill would require a potential tenant who believes they have been denied an apartment because of the source of income to file a complaint with the Akron Civil Rights Commission.

The commission would then investigate the amount owed to the prospective tenant and, if confirmed, impose a fine on the owner “proportionate to the damage”. There is no limit to the amount of fines that can be appealed to in court.

“This does not force the landlord to rent to every recipient of a voucher under Section 8,” said Nischt. “But they have to remain open to that option, when everyone else is equal. You can’t just refuse to maintain certain legitimate sources of income. Unfortunately, that refusal has historically been a proxy for and perpetuates racial, disability, or marital status discrimination Accommodation separation. “

Contact Doug Livingston at [email protected] or 330-996-3792.

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