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Bills Banning Housing Discrimination Draw Split Testimony

Senators heard divided testimony Tuesday over a bill package seeking to prevent landlords from discriminating against a potential tenant based on their source of income, a move supporters said would help get more people into affordable housing.

Opponents of the three-bill package said the proposal needs changes to ensure income sources are stable and can be verified, adding that delays in payments can cause problems for landlords including the payment of staff.

The Senate Housing and Human Services Committee Track took up SB 205 Track, SB 206 Track and SB 207 Track for testimony only, which collectively would ban landlords from discriminating against a person based on their source of income.

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), the committee chair, outlined the package and said there is discrimination across the state, particularly for individuals who are using Section 8 housing vouchers.

The main bill in the package, SB 205, includes the main provisions on preventing discrimination by landlords, who would also be barred from publishing information indicating a preference or limitation on any source of income. Landlords would also have to subtract from a rental unit’s required threshold level of income a rental voucher or subsidy.

Individuals who are affected by such discrimination would be able to seek recovery of damages.

Lisa Chapman, director of public policy with Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, said the organization has been working on the issue for the past three legislative sessions.

“Michigan is severely lacking in affordable housing supply and has been losing ground for decades,” Chapman said. “Michigan currently has a shortage of more than 190,000 rental units that are affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.”

She said rental assistance and voucher programs are a critical lifeline for low-income individuals to have access to safe and affordable housing.

Terri Snyder, a long-time advocate for affordable housing who has experienced homelessness, told the committee the process to obtain housing was difficult. She said it would take months to obtain housing before moving into the residence and obtaining stability.

SB 206 would define “source of income” to include housing assistance, public assistance, emergency rental assistance, veterans’ benefits, Social Security, supplemental security income or other retirement programs as well as any programs administered by federal, state, local or nonprofit groups. The bill would not cover income obtained through illegal means.

In SB 207, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act would be amended to prohibit housing discrimination based on source of income.

Not everyone was supportive of the bills as introduced.

Marea Powell with PK Companies expressed concerns about the bills.

Powell said the process can be slow for tenants with vouchers for paperwork, inspections and payments.

Delays can lead to loss of rental income, she said, adding that sometimes there can be problems with slow payments from companies providing voucher payments which provide difficulties for the landlord to pay expenses and payroll.

“Not every management company or small owner is able to incur the financial, administrative burden of working with proper agencies and should not be forced to delay rental payments and change their business practices and be forced to accept them,” Powell said.

Erika Farley, executive director of the Rental Property Owners Association of Michigan, was opposed to the package as introduced.

Farley said her organization is working with the bill sponsors on possible amendments to improve the legislation.

When asked what changes the group would like within the bills, Farley said they want to see that the income source is long-term versus short-term and that there are provisions in place to ensure the income sources can be verified.

“Our goal is to make sure that the program is working for property owners and for residents,” Farley said.

Sharese Stapleton of Flint spoke about her experience with homelessness. She is executive director of Mothers of Joy for Parenting and Family Wellness.

“Anyone at any time can become homeless,” Stapleton said.

In 2014 she became homeless for about one year. In 2015 she was able to obtain a voucher. After living in the same building for seven years, a new landlord took over the complex where she resided and increased the monthly rent by $300 per month. From there she said she burned through her savings and had to move on to other housing.

“Just because a person has a voucher doesn’t mean they’re less than,” Stapleton said.

Article by Dana L. Smith, Karoub Associates.



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