It is common practice for landlords to deny housing to people who use federal housing vouchers to pay their rent, making it difficult for low-income families to find a safe and affordable place to live. A newly introduced bill that has garnered bipartisan support in the Senate, however, would make this kind of discrimination illegal.
More than 5 million people, including low-income families, elderly or disabled people, veterans, and other vulnerable populations, have access to federal Housing Choice Vouchers, which help cover the cost of their rent and allow them to access safe and sanitary housing in the private market. However, a recent report by the Urban Institute found renters who receive such vouchers are denied housing by landlords at startling rates.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is retiring at the end of his term in January, would expand the Fair Housing Act and ban housing discrimination based on source of income or veteran status, according to Kaine’s office.
A number of cities and states already have such discrimination protections in place, but there are no federal protections on the books, which is what the Kaine-Hatch bill provides.
The bill would carve out new opportunities for many low-income families, according to Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“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,” Yentel said in a statement. “This legislation is an important step towards righting this wrong.”
It is unclear whether the bill can actually pass. Democrats will not have control of the House until the start of the next term in early January, when its Republican sponsor, Hatch, retires. It’s also unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will decide to take it up in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Still, Kaine’s office is hailing the bill as an important piece of legislation.
“As a fair housing lawyer, I witnessed the pain experienced by families who were discriminated against as they searched for a home,” Kaine said in a press release. “Housing decisions should be made on a potential tenant’s merits, not harmful prejudices that hurt the nation’s veterans and families in-need.”