Are Renters Being Discriminated Against Because They’re Getting Section 8 Subsidies?
by Dan D’Ambrosio
August 17, 2010
The ads for housing rentals in Voices, a small community paper circulating in western Connecticut, were blunt — and illegal.
“Someone sent us a copy of the classified section of the newspaper anonymously,” says Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center in Hartford. “There was a whole series of ads that said things like, ‘No Section 8,’ ‘Just right for couples,’ ‘Working people only’ — that kind of thing.”
It’s illegal in Connecticut to discriminate against tenants paying with Section 8 vouchers, a federal program that covers all but 30 percent of the rent for families who qualify under low-income guidelines. It’s also illegal to discriminate against families with children.
The Fair Housing Center launched an investigation earlier this year into Voices that ended up with filing a discrimination complaint against the paper and its advertisers at the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
“We sent people out to look at the apartments to see if [the landlords] would discriminate based on the ads,” says Kemple. “What we found in the overwhelming majority of times was that if a landlord wrote, ‘No Section 8,’ he really wouldn’t rent to someone with a Section 8 voucher.”
Greg Kirschner, legal director at the Fair Housing Center, explains that landlords can make decisions about who they want to rent to, but not based on source of income.
“You can’t decide because someone has a Section 8 voucher you’re not going to rent to them,” says Kirschner. “You could decide you’re not going to rent to them because they have a history of six evictions. You can look at reasonable criteria.”
Kemple is currently running training sessions for Woodbury-based Prime Publishing, which publishes Voices, and for most of the landlords implicated in the investigation instead of suing them.
“One of the reasons it’s so important to go after not just the landlords but also the paper is the advertisements send a message to people in the community that it’s OK to discriminate,” says Kemple.
Ken Schultz is the director of Imagineers LLC, a housing services company in Hartford that handles about half of the Section 8 vouchers available in the city each year. The other half go to the Hartford Housing Authority.
Schultz says there’s a waiting list of about 2,000 families in Hartford for Section 8 housing, and there are only about 300 openings each year. The federal subsidy for Section 8 is holding steady at about $15 million annually in Hartford.
“It’s a slow process,” he says. “No new funding is being introduced for the most part.”
The Fair Housing Center regularly deals with Section 8 discrimination in Hartford, but Kemple says it usually happens when someone tries to move out of Frog Hollow or the North End to one the suburbs, or the West End.
“A lot of landlords don’t understand the law and think it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t take Section 8,’” says Kemple. “A lot less frequently they say, ‘I don’t take people who are black or Latino.’ The message not to say that has gotten out.”
The Fair Housing Center has launched a new investigation to determine whether refusing Section 8 holders or families with children is really a proxy for race discrimination. The early results have been sobering. Kemple says there have already been instances of whites with Section 8 vouchers being accepted where blacks with vouchers were rejected.
“Unfortunately, we’re finding people are being treated differently not just based on whether they receive Section 8 vouchers but also on race,” says Kemple.
She says the investigation will continue at least through the end of the year, and possibly into next year.