Kansas City Passes Source-of-Income Discrimination Ordinance

Lawmakers in Kansas City, Missouri, passed on January 25 a new ordinance that would prohibit harassment or discrimination against tenants based upon the verifiable source of income they use to pay rent. The law, “Ordinance No. 231019,” also prohibits the denial of housing opportunities to a tenant based on information found in the tenant’s history during the application process, such as past convictions for non-violent crimes, the tenant’s credit rating, or prior eviction. With the passage of “Ordinance No. 231019” – which takes effect in August 2024 – Kansas City joins more than 106 localities and 20 states nationwide that have enacted similar protections for renters.

As a source-of-income (SOI) protection, “Ordinance No. 231019” states that a landlord or property owner cannot refuse to rent an available property to a tenant solely based on their income. The ordinance covers renters who receive any form of government subsidy or public assistance funds, such as renters who participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

In 2024, as rental housing market conditions continue to worsen due to the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall impact of the public health crisis on the housing sector has made it difficult for low-income and extremely low-income renters to access safe, stable, and affordable housing. In this context, SOI laws are an important tool that can be used by cities and states to help such renters find and maintain affordable housing of their choosing.

When SOI laws are passed, the resulting protections can ensure that low-income renters do not face the burden of being denied housing due to social stigmas attached to programs like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Such renters are in many cases discriminated against due simply to the presence of a housing voucher on a pending rental application. This evident social bias can trigger a denial by a landlord, with some landlords and property owners refusing to rent their property to public assistance recipients altogether.

Often, SOI laws counteract these biases by ensuring that public assistance recipients are covered under a state or locality’s fair housing laws, making them part of a protected renter class and granting them access to housing opportunities that would not have been available to them in the absence of such laws.

As NLIHC’s The Gap report makes clear, there is a shortage of more than 7.3 affordable and available rental units for the lowest-income renters across the nation. This shortage, coupled with the fact that rents have risen at rapid rates since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (reaching 7.6% in 2022 before dropping to 3.3% in 2023), has significantly narrowed the housing options available to low-income renters.

As a result, an increasing number of prospective renters are applying for multiple rental properties at a time. In 2022, 59% of prospective renters reported having submitted two or more rental applications during their housing search. The need to submit multiple applications can slow the process markedly. For voucher holders, this poses special challenges: the inability to find housing within a certain time frame, especially in a tight rental market with limited housing options, can put individuals at risk of having to return their voucher, which can in turn force them to rejoin a years-long waiting list to receive assistance.

The SOI ordinance passed in Kansas City was long-awaited by renters and tenant advocates across the city. In 2019, the Kansas City Tenants Union (KC Tenants) began advocating for the inclusion of SOI protections in the city’s Tenant Bill of Rights, a document that sought not only to inform tenants of their rights but also ensured that tenants are protected against retaliatory behavior. That bill, which was passed through “Resolution No. 190934,” ultimately did not include SOI protections.

However, tenant leaders and residents continued to advocate for the enactment of protections, highlighting the intersections between gender and discrimination across the city. In December 2023, more than 100 Black women in Kansas City rallied together to speak out against the harm caused by existent discriminatory housing practices in the city and signed a letter urging lawmakers, such as Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (who would later champion the bill), to consider passing SOI protections. In the letter, the group addressed the importance of passing protections for renters to ameliorate existing housing conditions for the most marginalized renter groups in the state.

The group made specific mention of the fact that Black women represent the largest share of voucher holders in Missouri, with Black women who have children most vulnerable to the threat of eviction. Data provided by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, moreover, notes that in Kansas City, Black renters make up only 34% of renters in the city but account for 50% of all eviction filings reported, showing the true extent of of the disproportionate impact of evictions on households of color across the city.

Advocates celebrated the victory following passage of the ordinance. “As homeless rates increase and access to affordable housing is decreasing in Missouri, Empower Missouri congratulates KC Tenants on their incredible win for housing access in Kansas City, Missouri,” said Misha Smith of Empower Missouri. “Their work on getting the Source-of-Income Discrimination Ban passed is not only a win for Kansas City tenants, but all tenants across Missouri who now have a model of how to strengthen local housing policies in their own communities.”

More information on Kansas City’s SOI law can be found here.