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County bans landlord discrimination

Section 8, federally funded rentals and homeless to benefit

City News Service | 6/13/2019, midnight

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this week to ban landlords from discriminating against would-be tenants with government-issued housing vouchers or other rental subsidies.

The vote to introduce an anti-discrimination ordinance was 4-1, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstaining. Barger has been critical of measures favoring rent controls.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a January motion asking county lawyers to draft the ordinance, which is scheduled to come back to the board next week for a final vote, which is typically an administrative formality. The measure would take effect 30 days after that second vote.

As the county struggles to find housing for the nearly 60,000 Angelenos without a permanent roof over their heads, policymakers are butting heads with landlords who don’t want to take Section 8 vouchers.

“Discrimination in housing is exacerbating our housing and homelessness crisis by allowing landlords to discriminate and deny leases to families who want and can pay for housing,” Kuehl said.

The federal housing vouchers are provided to low-income tenants and pay a rental subsidy to landlords to make up for the difference between what the tenant can afford and market rates.

“The ordinance will not force landlords to rent to a voucher holder, but simply prevent ruling them out as a tenant based solely on their source of income,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Despite the prohibitions against discrimination laid out in the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the vouchers are denied by Los Angeles County landlords 76 percent of the time, according to a 2018 survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Implementation of the nation’s Fair Housing Act is 50 years overdue,” Kuehl said. “L.A. County is saying we will wait no longer.”

In a letter to the board, Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) Executive Director Monique King-Viehland said options were already limited given a 3-percent vacancy rate and about 38,000 people on the waiting list for Section 8 housing. The average wait time is two to four years, according to the LACDA website.

“This form of discrimination further limits the rental inventory for rental subsidy assisted families and is thereby effectively eliminating housing choice options,” King-Viehland said.

Overall, the county has a shortage of roughly 517,000 affordable housing units, according to a report by the California Housing Partnership Corporation.

The ordinance is not limited to Section 8 vouchers, but includes other federally funded rental assistance, the county’s Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool—designed for homeless individuals with complex health issues—and rapid re-housing rental assistance.

County legislative advocates are also pressing for a similar statewide policy as proposed by Senate Bill 329, along with bans at the state level on rental rate gouging and evictions without cause.