Senate votes to ban housing discrimination against voucher recipients
STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation to ban housing discrimination against tenants or prospective tenants who receive housing subsidies.
The legislation (2019-S 0331), sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts, adds “lawful source of income” to the list of statuses — such as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and marital status — that landlords may not use as a basis for their decisions about to whom they will rent, or which units they will rent to them. The bill would not apply to owner-occupied dwellings of three units or less.
“It should not be legal to refuse to rent to someone just because they get a housing subsidy. That’s discrimination against the poor and those who, for whatever reason, qualify for assistance. It’s a systematic way of keeping poor people out of certain places, and forcing them into certain other places. That’s segregation and it hurts families and our society. We absolutely should have addressed this problem long ago,” said Senator Metts, (D-Dist. 6, Providence).
A study by Southcoast Fair Housing released this spring found that although Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) recipients can afford more than one-third of listed apartments statewide, they are ultimately rejected from 93 percent. Over 9,300 households in Rhode Island rely on HCV to afford housing.
The organization uncovered what it described as “systemic online discrimination against voucher recipients” during the course of its research. When its researchers reached out to local housing providers by phone, 63 percent refused to rent to any tenant with a voucher. Another 11 percent expressed uncertainty. Southcoast Fair Housing’s report, titled, “‘It’s About the Voucher’ Source of Income Discrimination in Rhode Island,” is available online here.
The bill includes language that would still allow landlords to ask whether a prospective tenants is at least 18 years old, and allow them to check a prospective tenant’s income, its source and its expected duration only for the purpose of confirming the renter’s ability to pay rent.
The bill defines “lawful sources of income” as “income or other assistance derived from Social Security; Supplemental Security Income; any other federal, state or local general public assistance, including medical assistance; any federal, state or local housing assistance, including Section 8 Housing …, and any other rental assistance; child support; or alimony.”
In addition to protecting tenants from being refused housing based on their income, the bill protects them from other unlawful housing practices, including segregation.
Fourteen states currently prohibit housing discrimination based on lawful source of income. Rhode Island and New Hampshire are the only states in New England that lack this protection.
“I was in high school when there were sit-ins against housing discrimination in the 1960s. How disappointing it is that this discrimination still exists in 2019,” said Senator Metts. “We must make discrimination-free housing a civil right. Rhode Island should not be divided into haves and have-nots, with certain families stigmatized just because of the type of assistance they receive. That dynamic weakens and segregates our communities.”
The bill, which also passed the Senate last year, will now go to the House, where Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) is sponsoring companion legislation (2019-H 5137).
The HomesRI Income Discrimination Coalition, a diverse group of local organizations and community stakeholders, supports the legislation, as does Gov. Gina M. Raimondo.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903