Landlord complaints spur program changes
Next year, Minneapolis will join nearly 60 jurisdictions nationwide that specifically prohibit all forms of housing discrimination, including landlords refusing to rent to persons with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).
The Minneapolis City Council last week unanimously approved a new ordinance that will take effect on May 1, 2018. Under the ordinance, City landlords cannot advertise that they will not take Section 8 persons, impose “unique standards” on them, or treat HCV holders differently from tenants without vouchers.
Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden, who authored the new policy in 2015, told the MSR the council vote would give HCV renters a fair chance at rental options in Minneapolis.
According to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) fact sheet, of the more than 17,000 Minneapolis residents in the Section 8 program, 53 percent are children, at least 67 percent “identify as people of color, 59 percent are Black, 39 percent are people with disabilities, and 14 percent are senior citizens.
In response to landlords who say the ordinance will affect rental rages citywide, Glidden argues that only about six percent of Minneapolis rental units in the city will be impacted. Many landlords already accept Section 8 vouchers – 5,000 HCVs are used in the city.
“I am not here to promise that [the new ordinance] will eradicate [housing] discrimination,” said Glidden. “But if you don’t put a prohibition ordinance in the books…there is no recourse at all” if a Section 8 renter is discriminated against. Such treatment “is not OK,” said the councilmember.
Housing discrimination by income is no different than employers refusing to hire someone based on income, race or ethnicity, adds Danielle Shelton Walczak director of the complaint department in the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. “You don’t tell people they can’t apply [for a job] because of [a] certain race or religion,” because that is illegal, she told the MSR. “This ordinance is exactly the same thing.”
Opponents of the ordinance, including a local landlord advocacy group, claim the ordinance will lead to rent increases; however, Twin Cities median rents have already increased “roughly 50 percent since 2000” according to the MPHA fact sheet. It adds that “less than 1 percent of rental units are accessible to very low income families” in Minneapolis. HCV families overall have an average income of just over $15,000 while median income for the Twin Cities metropolitan area is over $71,000.
“We are working on improving that image of the Section 8 renter,” said MPHA Communications Manager Jeff Horwich. There is a belief that voucher households are more likely to cause property damage than non-voucher tenants. Horwich stresses that Section 8 voucher holders should be able to find housing throughout the city.
Most voucher families pay around 30 percent of their income toward rent. MPHA pays the rest directly to the landlord each month through direct deposit. “It shouldn’t matter how you are paying for something, whether you are paying with public benefit as opposed to without the public benefit,” said Glidden.
“The ordinance is to provide clarification and reaffirm . . . that there is no discrimination based on receiving public assistance,” reiterated Shelton Walczak.
Another frequent complaint by landlords is the seemingly cumbersome regulations required to accept Section 8 renters. Horwich told reporters during a March 21 press briefing at City Hall, including the MSR, that the MHPA will act upon several recommendations from a comprehensive report on property inspection coordination between the agency and the City of Minneapolis that was presented to the MPHA board last week.
These recommendations include not requiring that the owner or an owner’s representative be present for move-in inspections, assigning a second inspector during “crunch time” — the middle and the end of the month — and shortening the time between the rental unit being available and Section 8 voucher contract approval.
Horwich said the changes would be implemented by this August. “We’re hopeful that by the time the ordinance takes place [next year], most if not all these changes will be implemented.”
Asked about proposed federal public housing cuts, Horwich told the MSR, “We are accustomed to managing the [Section 8] program on limited resources. It seems likely that the voucher program will experience some cuts. These cuts most likely will shrink the number of vouchers.”
There are over 1,700 families on the Section 8 wait list, which has not been opened since 2008, when 15,000 families signed up in a few days. Horwich said the waiting list could open again sometime this year, but quickly added, “That don’t mean there are more vouchers issued. The number of vouchers and the amount of money for the vouchers” do not automatically change, he said.
“There are some landlords who believe that this is important,” concluded Glidden on the new Section 8 policy. “It’s not just about the ordinance, but making sure that the program itself is working better.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com