Discrimination against Section 8 renters widespread

Of landlords surveyed, more than 86% refuse the certificates

Zeynab Egale
Zeynab Egale (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

The Metropolitan Council defines affordable housing as that for which “a moderate or low-income [family] pays no more than 30-40 percent of its monthly income.” However, it seems that many Twin Cities working families can’t afford affordable housing.

Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden pointed out last week during her November 10 regularly scheduled monthly breakfast meeting that she and fellow Council Member Abdi Warsame “have been working on a series of [housing] issues,” including co-authoring a citywide housing anti-discrimination ordinance this past spring that if passed would prohibit any landlord from denying anyone with a Section 8 voucher anywhere in the city.

“There is a housing crisis” in Minneapolis, stated Glidden. ”I had known about the Section 8 program for a long time, but it wasn’t until I started working with Councilman Warsame [that I began to] feel very convinced that now is a very opportune time to make some corrections.”

Section 8 is a federal housing voucher program that pays 75 percent of market rents for low-income persons and families whose income cannot exceed 50 percent of the median income in the area where they wish to live.

“There are many landlords that say no to Section 8 without any reason given. That’s not OK,” said Glidden to the MSR. “Everyone should be considered for housing whether they are in Section 8 or not. That’s fair housing.”

Minnesota Multi-Housing Commission , who was quoted in a local newspaper article earlier this year saying that such an ordinance could possibly lead to higher rents, last week told the MSR by phone that her organization is not against Section 8.

“Our position is that we are very willing to house everybody. The problem we might encounter with the Section 8 program is the administrative burden,” which includes additional inspections, rent payment delays and possible move-in delays.

“The administrative burden” on Section 8 landlords can be a problem, nonprofit Family Housing Fund Executive Director Ellen Sahli told the MSR. She, HOME Line Tenant Advocate Zeynab Egale, and University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs Director Ed Goetz along with Glidden last week discussed the affordable housing issue to a mostly White audience at a South Minneapolis eatery.

Egale cited a HOMELine telephone survey of area landlords and found that only 35 landlords in 2015 (out of 293 surveyed) and 37 in 2016 (out of 262 surveyed) said they would rent to persons with Section 8. A 2009 HOMELine survey of Twin Cities suburban landlords found that “landlord bias” exists when it comes to Section 8 renters.

Section 8 renters can find it “very difficult to find housing in the state of Minnesota,” Egale stated. Both 55411 and 55412 are ZIP Codes with large numbers of Section 8 renters and bad landlords.

“It is oftentimes the landlord who feels they don’t have to fix the place” for Section 8 renters, because they will “tear up the place.” Or landlords decide to no longer accept the federal voucher, Egale added. “This is [an] added anxiety.” Section 8 renters “face both stigmatization and discrimination. They are referred to as ‘those people.”

Egale told the MSR that she has fielded calls from renters who were wrongly told by their landlord that they won’t make a certain repair “because they don’t pay rent,” she recalled. “They aren’t considered as a worthy tenant.”

“Discrimination is really an important part of the American housing market and has been for decades” beginning during the Depression, noted Goetz. “We’re talking predominately about discrimination along race and ethnic lines, but also religious lines and others.”

President Mary Rippe
Ellen Sahli (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Beginning in the 1950s, public housing became “negatively stigmatized in some places more than others,” said Goetz. “The Whites who occupied public housing [moved] out because they had more choices in the housing market,” while Black people continued to live there mainly because of limited or no options but public housing.

“Whites moved out, and in a very short period of time, the racial profiling of public housing throughout the United States really changed,” said Goetz. “Once public housing became associated with people of color, it started to suffer in the public imagination in terms of allocation of funds, maintenance and upkeep, and the association of poverty with single parents.”

Nearly 30 cities around the U.S. have some kind of housing anti-discrimination law that involves Section 8, noted Glidden, who said she plans to introduce the city ordinance proposal for consideration early next year.

“This is not a unique thing,” but a partnership with MPHA, landlords and others is needed to make it work, said Glidden.

Asked about the lack of diversity at last week’s meeting, Glidden said, “I think a lot of people here were interested because they work in housing and different housing organizations. We probably need to do an evening event,” especially for Section 8 housing residents.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.