The city of Tucson is considering a new rule that would prevent landlords from rejecting applicants with housing subsidies, a move the city hopes will increase housing options for its most vulnerable residents.
The city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, is seeking public comment for the ordinance that would prohibit landlords from rejecting potential tenants based on their source of income, including those who use choice vouchers housing, officially known as Section 8.
HCD will continue to receive input through a public inquiry that will conclude Wednesday, August 24, and the Tucson City Council will consider final approval of the ordinance on September 27. Although the ordinance would not necessarily require landlords to accept housing vouchers, they would not. t be able to refuse a tenant on the basis of rental allowances.
The city already has a social services ordinance that prohibits “prejudice and discrimination” based on factors such as race, religion, gender and family status. By adding “source of income” to the order, HCD hopes that those dependent on housing assistance such as child support, social security, disability insurance or “any other form of assistance, government benefit or subsidy”, will expand the limited housing options for voucher holders.
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The federal government’s Housing Choice Voucher program is designed to help low-income families, people with disabilities and seniors living on fixed incomes afford housing in the private market. Recipients are not expected to spend more than 30-40% of their overall income on housing.
“The reality today is that if I have a voucher, and I have other income, and I apply, an owner will just look at it and say, ‘No, I’m not accepting vouchers. “, and we believe that is a form of discrimination,” said Ernesto Portillo, public information officer for HCD. currently no protection, the federal government does not provide this protection.”
Twenty-one states and more than 100 municipalities have some sort of law prohibiting discrimination based on source of income, according to the Poverty and Race Research Action Council. Tucson would be the first city in Arizona to pass such an ordinance.
Under the proposal, the city would work with the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and the Southwest Fair Housing Council to educate landlords on the source of income rules. Tenants who believe they were rejected because of their source of income would file a complaint, and if discrimination is found, the city would enter into a conciliation agreement with the landlord without penalties. In the event of a repeat violation or “flagrant disregard” of the ordinance, the city says, property managers could face civil violations or penalties.
The waiting list for housing vouchers in Tucson has been closed since January 2018. According to HCD, the department receives about $43 million annually to fund vouchers, but fewer landlords are willing to accept them, and most housing designated for good holders is at full capacity.
Currently, 610 voucher holders in Tucson are looking for housing. The average search time, according to HCD, is 68 days. This number increases to 80 days for those coming from homelessness.
“Having a policy that we just don’t participate in voucher programs is too often the reality in Arizona, especially in a hot rental market like the one we have today,” said Michael Shore, CEO of HOM, Inc. ., a supportive housing society. provider that facilitates vouchers through the state Medicaid agency. “There’s not a whole lot of reason for landlords and property managers to work with grant programs, because for every available unit in the community, you have 20 applicants waiting.”
The owners reject the proposal
The revenue stream ordinance is part of the city’s Affordable Housing Strategy for Tucson, or HAST, a plan the mayor and council passed in December. But many local landlords have pushed back against the proposed rule, largely due to dissatisfaction with the long wait times and other bureaucratic delays that come with the federal housing voucher program.
“The property managers and landlords I’ve spoken to about this all point to the program’s challenges and inefficiencies as the biggest hurdle,” said Shawn Cote, director of government affairs for the Tucson Association of Realtors. “Unfortunately, tenants in the housing rental market are facing challenges. We are in the midst of an epic housing supply crisis right now. It’s not just Section 8 voucher holders.”
Tucson’s HCD has a troubled history of managing housing vouchers with late payments and paperwork deterring landlords from accepting subsidies. However, the city says it has cleaned up its act under HCD director Liz Morales, who joined the city in 2019 and previously worked as housing director in Mesa for four years after overseeing housing for Section 8 in Phoenix for six years.
According to the city, HCD has ensured that landlords whose tenants use housing vouchers receive their first payment within 15 days of finalizing their contract, up from 39 days in 2019. The turnaround time for inspections required for housing in the voucher program fell to an average of four days from 13 days in 2019, according to the city.
“Generally speaking, before Director Morales arrived, the Section 8 department was in shambles,” Portillo said, adding that Morales was hired specifically to fix the program. “(HCD) shortened the inspection time for landlords, for apartments it was more vigilant and listened more to landlords.”
Despite the changes, landlords are still reluctant to accept housing vouchers, according to Portillo.
“Unfortunately the owners left the Section 8 program, I would say largely because the housing market is so hot. A landlord can get more money for an apartment or house on the open market than participating in a Section 8 program,” he said.
Ben Buehler-Garcia, a southern Arizona advocate with the Arizona Multihousing Association, said the source of income ordinance is “the wrong trajectory” for increasing the supply of affordable housing in Tucson. Rising costs from limited housing supply should be dealt with first, he said.
“Even with the source of income ordinance on the books, it won’t really solve the problem because most people won’t be able to qualify based on rental rates alone,” said Buehler-Garcia, whose the organization represents property developers and managers across the state.
Cote of the Tucson Association of Realtors believes that incentives for landlords to take housing vouchers would be more effective than a blanket policy.
“One of the concerns is that we are indicating that this issue should be addressed by the owners,” he said. “And we’re burdening landlords with federal guidelines and telling them how to run their rentals rather than encouraging and finding incentives for them to expand their operation to include Section 8 vouchers.”
Portillo says he hopes the ordinance will increase housing options for tenants with housing vouchers, but with more than 600 on the waiting list to find housing using the federal subsidy, cooperation from landlords is essential.
“Let’s say there are three applications, one has a source of income and the other two do not. The owner can say I’m going to take the third one for some reason,” he said. “We just hope landlords are more open and willing to accept Section 8 vouchers and work with the City of Tucson to help resolve this critical crisis we find ourselves in.”
HOM Inc.’s Shore acknowledges that the ordinance will not solve the housing crisis, but believes it is a necessary change to expand housing options for the most vulnerable.
“It’s not like a magic bullet. But it will give more individuals and families a chance to be considered for rental if landlords are prohibited from excluding them outright,” he said. “It’s needed now more than ever. No one should be discriminated against or barred from applying for a rental in the community because of their source of income. It’s that simple.
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Contact journalist Nicole Ludden at [email protected]