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State and Local Source-of-Income Nondiscrimination Laws: Protections that Expand Housing Choice and Access to Healthy, Stable Homes

Not in any newsletter issue of Poverty & Race

PRRAC has just updated its annual guide to state and local source-of-income (SOI) non-discrimination laws throughout the country. These laws protect households who rely on legal sources of income such as housing choice vouchers or public benefits to pay their rent—preventing landlords from denying, evicting, or treating them unfairly on that basis. As this compilation shows, numerous jurisdictions recognize the need for, and benefits of, SOI laws. While this recognition continues to spread, additional advocacy for SOI protections remains needed. In too many areas, otherwise-qualified families are unable to access stable housing of their choice simply due to their source of income.

Updated in March 2017, this document was originally published as “Appendix B” to the PRRAC-Urban Institute housing mobility toolkit, Expanding Choice: Practical Strategies for Building a Successful Housing Mobility Program (February 2013). In addition to its descriptions of the laws, it offers an annotated list of related resources and background readings.

Source-of-income protections: an overview

SOI protections further both the aims of federal housing programs and the policies of expanded choice, desegregation, and access to opportunity set forth by the Fair Housing Act. Fundamental to their design, Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) allow participants to move anywhere they find suitable housing – theoretically expanding their options beyond the historic, enduring concentration of subsidized housing. In practice, the ability to exercise housing choice remains easily curtailed by landlord bias against voucher holders. In many areas, SOI discrimination has a disproportionately severe effect on groups already likely to face discrimination on the basis of characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act, such as race and disability. Because of this, patterns of SOI discrimination can also reinforce patterns of residential segregation.

Landlord discrimination against voucher holders can also deepen the burdens, economic and otherwise, of vulnerable households. These households in particular already face numerous constraints when seeking homes – see, e.g., Stefanie DeLuca, “Why Don’t More Voucher Holders Escape Poor Neighborhoods?” (Furman Center, Oct. 2014). Voucher discrimination only increases the difficulty of securing healthy, well-maintained, fairly-priced housing. Accounts of discrimination further discourage tenants from pursuing a variety of housing opportunities and neighborhoods (see, e.g., J. Rosie Tighe, Megan E. Hatch, and Joseph Mead, “Source of Income Discrimination and Fair Housing Policy,” Journal of Planning Literature Vol. 32, 2017).

As detailed in Appendix B, SOI protections are currently enacted in twelve states, the District of Columbia and numerous cities. In addition to the areas where SOI has been included in state statues or local ordinances, three states provide incentives to promote the acceptance of housing choice vouchers, and three new states are currently considering SOI protection laws.

These protections are promising, and show an evolving recognition of the benefits of SOI laws. Yet this document also shows that broader coverage is needed. As fair housing advocates (and their allies) work for additional laws, and as local efforts to ensure SOI protections may face the threat of state preemption,1 there will also a need for broader public education around the voucher program, the stories of its clients, and these important protections (see, e.g., John Henneberger, “Suit filed to overturn Texas prohibition on source of income protection for voucher holders,” Feb. 17, 2017).

In addition, the benefits of SOI laws are most fully achieved where there are strong complementary policies. These include housing mobility counseling, landlord outreach, and affirmative marketing (See Haberle, et al, “Accessing Opportunity: Accessing Opportunity: Affirmative Marketing and Tenant Selection in the LIHTC and Other Housing Programs,” all of which help to overcome informational hurdles to housing access. Even where SOI laws are in place, support for legal services, public education, and robust enforcement of those laws is critical.

Read Appendix B here.
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