In December 2014, at the urging of HousingWorks Austin and a wide coalition of housing advocates, Austin City Council unanimously approved an ordinance adding “source of income” to the list of locally protected classes. The new ordinance outlaws discrimination against voucher holders solely because of their source of income. So, just like landlords cannot discriminate against people of color, families with children, seniors and people with disabilities, among other protected classes, people who use vouchers are equally protected.
Vouchers (like Veterans Administration Supportive Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers, commonly known as Section 8) provide landlords with cash payments to make up the difference between fair market rent and the amount a tenant can afford to pay. Texas municipalities can use vouchers to open housing markets to all people regardless of the way they pay for housing: seniors, children of single parents, people with disabilities and returning veterans.
But the majority of landlords refuse to accept vouchers. An Austin Tenants’ Council 2012 survey found that less than 10% of housing developments accepted vouchers. Since that time, the number of properties accepting vouchers has shrunk even further.
Austin’s newly-expanded local fair housing ordinance is being challenged on two fronts. Immediately after the December 12, 2014 City Council decision, the Austin Apartment Association filed suit to halt enforcement of the local ordinance. Both sides had their day in District Court in January 2015. A final decision is anticipated this month.
In addition, several bills were filed in the Texas State Legislature (SB 267, HB 738, and SB 343) that would limit a local jurisdiction’s ability to expand fair housing choice to people who use vouchers.
In all the discussion around both landlord and tenants’ rights, it is important to note what source of income protection does and does not do. Source of Income protection:
- DOES NOT force landlords to accept applicants with poor rental histories or criminal backgrounds;
- DOES NOT force landlords to accept lower rental rates;
- DOES prevent discrimination against seniors, people with disabilities, veterans or any tenant renting using VASH or HCV;
- DOES provide people the freedom to rent in a safe, decent neighborhood of their choice.
Stay connected to www.housingworksaustin.org for updates on the source of income protection rulings.