State lawmakers introduce housing justice bills
State Reps. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, and Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods, introduced legislation to prevent landlords in Michigan from denying tenants housing based on their source of income last month.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federal program that supplements housing costs for low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities. In the state of Michigan, landlords are able to deny tenants housing based on their source of income, including housing choice vouchers and veterans’ benefits.
Rabhi said the source of rental payments should not matter if payments are able to be made.
“If you are able to pay for the rent, who cares where the money comes from?” Rabhi said.
By adding housing discrimination to the list of what the Michigan Civil Rights Commission can investigate, Rabhi hopes the bills will address the economic discrimination housing choice voucher users face.
“The landlords want to be able to push people out because there's a certain stigma that comes with Section 8, there's a certain stigma when it comes with being low-income,” Rabhi said. “And that's the stigma that is as much created by the landlord, as it is a social stigma that exists out there that we need to break down.”
The city of Ann Arbor already has protections against economic discrimination in place, as illustrated in the Rights and Duties of Tenants pamphlet landlords are required to provide. The portion written by the city specifies “No lessor may refuse to rent to you or to discriminate in your rental agreement or privileges because” ... “(7) You get your income from welfare payments or any other legal source.”
Laura Rall, Social Work student and president of Affordable Michigan, said though Ann Arbor already has these protections, Rabhi's bill will benefit low-income and veteran U-M students and staff on the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
“I do think that (the bill) is going to be really great and beneficial to the U of M community as a whole, and especially when it comes to the Dearborn and Flint campuses,” Rall said.
Despite its benefits, Rall fears the bill may drive up rental prices and segregate communities.
“If landlords are, I guess you could say, forced to accept people’s money, as long as its legally coming from somewhere, I can definitely see landlords and property management companies using that as an excuse to raise the rent, which would be very detrimental to a lot of people and a lot of communities,” Rall said. “I could see it causing places to become more socially, economically segregated.”
Business senior Matthew Cline has similar concerns that landlords required to accommodate housing choice vouchers will pass along costs to tenants and homeowners.
“Remembering my experiences working at a company in which half their properties were Section 8, to work with Section 8 residents, you have to hire more people, you have to provide more paperwork to the government, you have to adhere to so many regulations,” Cline said. “To places that previously didn’t allow Section 8 housing, these landlords are going to incur more costs,” if the legislation were to pass.
LSA junior Joseph Jackowski, a veteran, said he is concerned legislators are using veterans’ issues to garner support for separate matters.
“These two things (housing for veterans and low-income families) are separable, and it just doesn't make sense to me, that we would have to make this one bill,” Jackowski said. “So it seems to me that they're using veterans as a means to pass a broader issue.”
Jackowski believes that in return for honorable service, the government has an obligation to educate and house veterans, especially those who have become disabled through service. The same argument, he reasons, cannot be made for low-income families.
“One’s views about whether or not we should be giving these vouchers to low-income families is actually besides the point because it ends up being totally different justifications,” Jackowski said. “The problem I see is that this bill, though it may be a step in the right direction for veterans, is still using veterans as a means to deter votes against this bill for low-income families also.”
Rabhi is hopeful the bill will pass, despite the current Republican control of the state legislature.
“I’ve had conversations with colleagues on both sides of the aisle about the importance of making sure people have housing,” Rabhi said. “And I’ve talked to colleagues on both sides of the aisle about the importance of making sure in particular that veterans have access to adequate housing. I know there’s at least a willingness to move something forward around housing access, because it’s an issue that I know that both sides of the aisle care about.”