Income discrimination hurts housing market

Barriers in housing force community members out of Denver

Councilperson At-Large Robin Kniech
Posted 8/6/18

As Denver seeks to expand access to affordable homes in the face of unprecedented demand, building new affordable housing is important, but it cannot be our only strategy. We can help more families …

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Income discrimination hurts housing market

Barriers in housing force community members out of Denver

Posted

As Denver seeks to expand access to affordable homes in the face of unprecedented demand, building new affordable housing is important, but it cannot be our only strategy. We can help more families access homes that already exist. No one should be turned away from a home they can afford because they are using disability income, or a housing choice voucher, or a Veteran’s Administration (VA) loan, rather than just income derived from wages.

Banning source-of-income discrimination would help people of all incomes who may face barriers, like a college student who is utilizing student loans to rent an apartment while they attend school, or a mother who uses child support from a former spouse to help pay for housing for her and her children so they don’t have to change schools after a divorce.

To promote housing access and support mixed-income communities, my office is co-leading an effort with community partners to add source of income to Denver’s non-discrimination ordinance. Sixty-five cities and counties and 14 states already protect against source-of-income discrimination.

Housing vouchers are a primary tool to help expand access to affordable housing in a more integrated, mixed-income approach that can help families live closer to jobs, schools or other amenities. Locally, about 12 percent of the roughly 6,000 voucher holders in Denver cannot find housing in our city and have to move to other counties, sometimes further away from jobs, child care and family support networks. A recent survey found that 39 percent of Section 8 voucher holders reported being turned away from housing because of their voucher. Those receiving disability benefits also reported their source of income as a barrier to securing housing. The survey can be found at https://bit.ly/2ut9Hgu

It is still important that landlords be able to screen potential tenants. Landlords can still look at past rental history, such as whether tenants have paid their rent on time. While these are important and legitimate ways landlords have to screen tenants, it should not matter where a tenants’ source of verifiable income is coming from. In many cases, long-standing retirement, veteran or disability benefits may be even more reliable than employment, which can be terminated without notice.

The goal of any non-discrimination policy is to prevent the discrimination, not to punish people. If it passes, implementation would be delayed until Jan. 1, 2019 to allow for robust education of both landlords and people looking for homes. Our office is also committed to exploring ways to help streamline any challenges in the administration of voucher programs and other possible supports for landlords concerned about damage that may extend beyond a security deposit.

Denver has a strong interest in the stability of households.

We lose talent and a work force when people can’t live here. Children get disrupted when their families cannot find a place to live. Homelessness can occur if there is a gap between losing a home and finding a new one. In addition to the negative impacts on families, there can be public costs to these kinds of displacement, whether it is providing emergency shelter, additional social services, etc.

Expanding access to existing housing is good for our economy, and it’s good for our communities and the stability of our schools.

The proposed ordinance will be working its way through Council committee in July and could be voted on by the full council by early August. Contact our office for updates on this policy, or for other council office services, at kniechatlarge@denvergov.org or 720-337-7712.

Robin Kniech is a councilmember at-large on the Denver City Council. At-large council members represent the city as a whole.

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