Ordinance aims to end discrimination against Section 8 renters

Landlords can no longer refuse to even consider housing voucher holders

An ordinance prohibiting Minneapolis landlords from refusing to rent to low-income tenants with federal housing vouchers was approved March 24 by a unanimous City Council.

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said the ordinance, first introduced two years ago, continued a “long tradition” in the state and city of shielding public assistance recipients from discrimination. Its passage does not mean landlords must rent to Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders, only that they must consider their applications as they would anyone else seeking an apartment.

An amendment to the Minneapolis Civil Rights Ordinance, it takes effect May 1, 2018.

“Now, we will no longer be permitted to have properties advertise ‘No section 8 may apply’ — something that has long been a tremendous barrier to what is really a relatively small group of individuals who are some of our most vulnerable residents trying to find housing in the marketplace and having tremendous, tremendous difficulty,” Glidden said.

She said only about 200 Section 8 participants are looking for housing in Minneapolis each month, on average, but they face “stereotyping and blanket rejection” by landlords. More than 90 percent of voucher holders in Minneapolis are people of color, and the average household income of all voucher holders was $15,203. About 5,000 households are already using vouchers to pay for housing.

The ordinance was co-sponsored by City Council members Abdi Warsame and Lisa Goodman. According to a city report, nearly 60 other jurisdictions nationwide have similar ordinances on the books. In Minneapolis, the city’s Civil Rights Department is charged with monitoring enforcement of the new rules.

The council took nearly two hours of public testimony on the ordinance during a joint committee hearing held the week prior to the vote. Several landlords, property managers and representatives of the multi-family housing industry urged council members to first make reforms to the Section 8 program as it is administered by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority before acting on an ordinance.

“This ordinance is not the solution to the problem you’re trying to solve,” said Cecil Smith, a Minneapolis landlord and incoming board chair of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, a non-profit trade group. Smith argued that the council’s action seemed “hostile to business,” and that the city should first give the MPHA time to work with landlords.

The organization had previously taken out a full-page advertisement in the Star Tribune warning that passage of the ordinance would add layers of bureaucracy and lead to “coastal rents,” pricing many out of the housing market.

A statement released by the Minnesota Multi Housing Association after the March 24 vote described the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program as “broken.” The statement read, in part: “We support the program. We support reform. We call on the City Council to start being practical and actually make things better, not play politics with lives and businesses in the city.”

The MPHA responded with its own statement posted to its website. The city agency has pledged to improve its working relationship with landlords through better communication and an updated inspections process. It has also proposed creation of a fund to incentivize local landlords to consider Section 8 voucher holders as tenants.