Promoting moves into areas of high opportunity can be particularly difficult because landlords in these areas are often unaccustomed to leasing to voucher holders. In many states it is still lawful for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on their source of income. In high-opportunity areas, there is often a high demand for housing, so landlords have multiple options when renting a unit. It is, therefore, not uncommon that landlords will restrict their rental units to non-voucher holders. This discrimination, while based on source of income, disproportionally impacts minority households and can make it extremely difficult for voucher holders to find suitable rental properties in higher-income neighborhoods.

Fortunately, this type of discrimination can be prevented through a change to a locality’s fair housing, anti-discrimination or human rights ordinance. While most cities already have protections against discrimination based on race and gender, these ordinances can be amended to include source of income or specific protections for voucher holders. While these legal protections may not automatically prevent all discrimination against voucher holders in the housing market, they represent a city’s commitment toward fighting discrimination of this kind.

As of 2015, 13 states and 37 cities had source-of-income protection laws.

Case Studies

Source of Income Amendment (Cook County, Ill.)

After a 10-year campaign, the Cook County Board of Commissioners amended the county’s Human Rights Ordinance in 2013 to include protections for Housing Choice Voucher holders. Prior to the amendment, the ordinance included protections against discrimination based on source of income, but included an exception for voucher holders. An ambitious campaign to raise awareness of discrimination against voucher holders, share personal stories and reveal the racially segregated distribution of voucher holders in the county contributed to the success of this amendment.

The ordinance now requires that all tenants have the opportunity to be screened for a unit in an equal manner, but does not necessarily force landlords to accept all housing vouchers. The amendment also prohibits landlords from charging higher security deposits because a tenant uses a voucher, which is a common practice in the area.

For More Info:

Betsy Shuman-Moore, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Phone: (312) 630-9744