Two key Minneapolis City Council committees held a joint meeting Wednesday, March 22 to consider a proposed ordinance to expand important civil rights protections for thousands of low-income renters.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit discriminating against tenants with a rental subsidy, such as Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Unfortunately, for decades “we don’t take Section 8” has been code for discrimination based on race or disability, 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 voucher households are employed; the average household income is about $21,000.
When renters are denied subsidized housing, they are often forced to move to neighborhoods away from family, schools or needed services. They can lose their subsidy altogether if unable to find a landlord to accept it. When families are moved involuntarily, it can contribute to high student mobility rates that are detrimental to their education and 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 that such laws make it easier to move into neighborhoods with access to greater opportunities. The studies show that voucher holders were substantially more often able to use their vouchers in communities with discrimination protections compared to those without.
Opponents claim the proposal would destabilize the rental market and lead to rent increases. However, Section 8 voucher holders represent only about six percent of the rental market in Minneapolis.
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 they 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 housing segregation.
Eric Hauge is the director of organizing and public policy at HOME Line. Lael Robertson is an attorney with the Housing Justice Center.