On June 23, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced the “Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2022” (S.4485) in the U.S. Senate, and Representative Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced a corresponding bill (H.R.8213) in the U.S. House of Representatives. While rental assistance programs help families find safe and stable places to live, too often landlords discriminate against households that receive assistance through programs like the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) or Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) programs. If passed, the bill would prohibit housing discrimination based on “source of income,” “military status,” and “veteran status” by adding each to the list of classes protected under the Fair Housing Act. In addition to aiding voucher holders and other low-income renters, the legislation would advance racial equity and strengthen economic mobility. The bill is supported by NLIHC and leading national organizations from the housing, faith, civil rights, food security, health, and anti-poverty sectors represented in the Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) campaign. Learn more here.
Too often, households struggle to find landlords willing to accept housing assistance, including HCVs, VASH vouchers, and assistance from other state and local housing programs. Landlords frequently discriminate against households receiving rental assistance, and this discrimination can act as a proxy for racial discrimination, leaving assisted households with few options for where to live. Research by the Urban Institute (see Memo, 8/27/2018) shows landlords often deny housing to households receiving federal rental assistance, particularly in markets without source-of-income protections. Such housing discrimination prevents low-income people from living in neighborhoods of their choice, including areas with access to jobs that pay decent wages, high-performing schools, healthcare, and transit.
While several states and localities have passed source-of-income protection laws, federal law does not protect against this type of discrimination. As a result, only one in three households with a voucher is protected by non-discrimination laws. By expanding the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination based on military status, veteran status, and source of income, the bill would make it easier for low-income households, veterans, and servicemembers to access affordable housing in communities of their choice.
The legislation was previously introduced in the Senate by Senator Kaine (D-VA) and the now-retired Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (see Memo, 11/19/2018).
Reflecting on his introduction of the bill, Senator Kaine explained that “as a former fair housing attorney, I’ve witnessed how affordable housing can provide stability and open the door to opportunity – but I’ve also seen how housing discrimination unjustly locks people out of that opportunity. . . . This legislation would build on the success we’ve seen in Virginia by protecting veterans and low-income families across the country from discrimination and helping more Americans access housing.”
What Campaign Leaders are Saying About the Legislation
“I applaud Senator Kaine and Representative Peters for introducing this important legislation to help combat housing discrimination, segregation, and inequality,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “Where you live has an enormous impact on the opportunities we have in life – everything from educational attainment to lifetime earnings, better health, and life expectancy. For too long, discrimination has prevented low-income people from living in neighborhoods of their choice – including communities with jobs that pay decent wages, good schools, healthcare, and transportation – simply because they rely on federal housing benefits to make ends meet. This legislation is an important step towards righting this wrong.”
Mike Koprowski, national director of the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, agreed: “All too often, source of income discrimination prevents low-income families from accessing neighborhoods of their choosing, which perpetuates economic and racial segregation and seriously harms upward mobility for young children. . . . Imagine going to a landlord and inquiring: ‘I’d like to live here. It would be a better life for my family. I can afford the asked rent with my voucher. You have units available. It’s a stable, lawful source of income, and I meet all the other qualifications of tenancy.’ And you are simply told ‘no’ just because you have a voucher. It’s not right, and I commend Senator Kaine and Representative Peters for proposing this important legislation.”
Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, lauded the bill, remarking that “the American dream is one in which all have access to a safe place to call home – regardless of gender, income level, race, or disability. We know that stable, affordable housing is associated with improved physical and mental health, increased food security, and better educational opportunities. That’s why the Fair Housing Improvement Act is so vital, because by helping the unhoused among us, it will make all of us stronger, healthier, and more secure. . . . We applaud Senator Kaine and Representative Peters for reintroducing this legislation and his efforts to make this type of security a reality for all. We urge Congress to join with him and provide a more certain future for the thousands of Americans searching for hope.”
Food Research & Action Center President Luis Guardia said, “We commend Senator Kaine and Representative Peters for introducing legislation that will go a long way in addressing discrimination in housing, which has existed for far too long in this country. Anti-hunger advocates know well the balancing act many families with low incomes face in robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul: paying for food or paying for a roof over their head. No one should be forced to choose between these basic needs.”
Melissa Boteach, vice president of income security and child care/early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, stated, “For far too long, women – especially Black women – have struggled financially, mentally, and physically as a result of systemic barriers preventing them from secure, accessible, and affordable housing. . . . Even when women can access rental assistance, they still face opposition from landlords who refuse to accept federal housing vouchers. We applaud Senator Tim Kaine and Rep. Scott Peters for introducing the Fair Housing Improvement Act, which creates a federal ban on source of income discrimination for renters. If enacted, this legislation would afford more women the opportunity to secure stable housing, which, in turn, will directly contribute to better health, education, and financial outcomes.”
Liz Seaton, policy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, said, “We support this legislation to protect renters from housing discrimination. Too often, landlords refuse to rent to low-income families using vouchers based on income and veterans. People who stepped up to serve their country as well as people using vouchers must be protected from discrimination. . . . Housing vouchers are a legal, important, and a valuable source of income. When landlords deny people who are veterans or voucher-holders homes, it may prevent financial opportunities, access to education, and a good quality of life. The worst impacts, of course, fall on women, people of color, those living with disabilities, LGBTQ people and families, and more.”
Read a press release about the bill and see a full list of the bill’s endorsers at: https://bit.ly/3yeVkxs
Read an NLIHC fact sheet on the “Fair Housing Improvement Act” at: https://bit.ly/3NiWzjL
See legislative text for the bill at: https://bit.ly/3NfLQqi