Vanquishing Source of Income Discrimination in Seattle

 

From a 1964 protest in Seattle against discrimination in the housing market

From a 1964 protest in Seattle against discrimination in the housing market. Photo, Item 63893, Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

After years of trying to find safe and stable housing for herself and her daughter,  Naomi was thrilled to receive a Section 8 voucher to help pay rent.  Yet to her dismay, her struggles continued as landlords refused to accept her because of her voucher (Watch Naomi’s story).

She had a legitimate, stable way of paying rent, but was denied housing because of the source of her income. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story.

On August 8th meeting at 2pm, the City Council will vote on a piece of legislation proposed by Mayor Murray that would help protect people like Naomi  from discrimination when trying to find a safe, affordable home. 

Why is this change necessary? We currently have laws on the books that protect renters from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, color, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, political ideology, veteran or military status, or use of Section 8 vouchers. (Though Section 8 vouchers are protected, the law is often disregarded, as Naomi’s story illustrates). However, left out are a wide range of income sources that people use to pay rent such as Social Security Income, veteran’s benefits and child support payments, and even those protections already in place are not always enforced, as is clearly highlighted by Naomi’s story.

Other equity issues stem from source of income discrimination. As explained by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA), “this [discrimination] has a significant impact on communities who disproportionately need to rely on housing subsidies to make ends meet:  households of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and single parent households with young children.” Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting that municipalities which have adopted similar policies are experiencing lesser degrees of poverty amongst people who use vouchers. According to WLIHA, Martha Galvez’s 2011 study, “Defining Choice in the Housing Choice Voucher Program…” found that average neighborhood poverty rates for voucher holders were lower in areas with source of income discrimination laws in place. People shouldn’t be evicted for paying their rent with Social Security or any other legitimate source of income or financial assistance. If you can pay your rent in full and on time, you should expect to be treated fairly by your landlord.

You can make your voices heard by testifying on August 8th at City Hall before the City Council votes on the legislation. Public comment begins at 2pm, but it’s good to get there early to sign up for your two minute speaking slot. Another great way to get involved is to email your Councilmember to share your thoughts on the proposal. The office of Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who brought the legislation to committee, has posted more information about the policy. Our next monthly meeting of the Renter Initiative will follow shortly after on Wednesday, August 10th.