ProJo: R.I. bill seeks to end Section 8 stigma
Posted:Mar 19, 2018 at 8:31 PM
Updated:Mar 19, 2018 at 8:31 PM
Measure would prohibit discrimination against renters based on their “lawful source of income,” including a rental assistance voucher, Social Security payment or disability benefits.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The federal Housing Choice Voucher program was created during the Reagan administration to give low-income tenants a way to find housing of their own choosing in the private market, instead of being limited to Section 8-financed projects.
But in Rhode Island, that intended choice and mobility are often pre-empted by landlords who say: “No Section 8.”
Unlike Massachusetts, which outlawed this form of housing discrimination in 1971, and unlike Connecticut (1989), Maine (1975) and Vermont (1987), Rhode Island still allows landlords to proclaim “No Section 8” in advertisements, and they are allowed to say it directly to would-be tenants. In Rhode Island, about 9,300 households have vouchers.
According to Marissa Janton, legal counsel for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, many landlords use a “no Section 8” policy as a “proxy” for discrimination based on other factors, including gender, family composition, disability, and race and ethnicity. She said that 70 percent of voucher holders in Rhode Island are families with children, 87 percent are households headed by women and 20 percent are black.
New legislation (H7528 / S2301) would prohibit discrimination against renters based on their “lawful source of income,” including a rental assistance voucher, Social Security payment or disability benefits. The law would not apply to owner-occupied buildings with three or fewer units, and it would not prevent landlords from asking prospective tenants about their income level.
Similar legislation was introduced in Rhode Island last year, and was passed in the Senate. Hearings were held on this year's bills March 1 in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Feb. 27 in the House Judiciary Committee.
The House panel is chaired by a lawyer and Section 8 landlord, Rep. Cale Keable, D-Burrillville. Last year, Keable recused himself from proceedings on the legislation, but he led a hearing on the bill on Feb. 27. Keable did not respond directly to a request for comment, but spokesman Larry Berman emailed The Journal with a response from the chairman about why he recused himself last year, but not this year.
According to Berman, Keable recused himself last year out of “an abundance of caution.” Keable's message said: “I attended Jason Gramitt's ethics training earlier this year and I developed a better understanding of the class exemption, which I clearly fall under regarding this bill.”
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