section 8

Source of Income Discrimination in Indy

Monday evening the City-County Council tie voted (14-14) on Proposal 215, which would amend the Municipal Code to forbid landlords from discriminating against (potential) tenants based on source of income. In other words, a landlord could not refuse to rent to an individual solely because that individual receives support from a non-preferred source, such as the federal government. Opponents viewed this proposal as a way to force the acceptance of Section 8.

Normally, I would not support a law that reduces individual freedom. However, housing discrimination is a real problem. Right here in Indianapolis.

This November, the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana released an audit report on Section 8 denial rates within Marion County. Of 51 tests conducted, a whopping 42 rental properties refused to accept housing vouchers. This means that only 14% of housing providers tested were willing to accept vouchers!

The audit also revealed that last year, over 7000 Marion County residents (4.6% of renters) received vouchers. The demographic breakdown of voucher recipients is as follows: 89% black, 8% white, 1% Hispanic, and 1% other; 18% had disabilities; and 31% had an individual over the age of 51 listed as the head of household.

While the audit’s findings on how race plays into discrimination were incredibly eye-opening (you really should read the entire report), I want to focus on my area of expertise – people with disabilities. As mentioned, 18% of Section 8 voucher recipients are people with disabilities. Surely, some of these individuals can probably live independently. But what about those who can’t?

Poverty and unemployment rates within the disability community are ridiculous. According to the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, only 20% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force. Of those still trying to find jobs, the unemployment rate is over 11% – more than double the unemployment rate of individuals without disabilities.

Sure, I’ve known some people with disabilities who are content to play video games and enter contests all day, at the expense of community interaction. However, the vast majority of people with disabilities that I know have sought higher education, work experience, and have hit the pavement to find employment. However, they struggle due to lack of necessary supports and, while I hate to admit it, the stigma that people with disabilities cannot perform as aptly as nondisabled employees. I don’t mean to get off track and venture into employment tangents, I want to demonstrate that not all recipients of housing assistance are lazy ne’er-do-wells.

If landlords can regularly discriminate against these people, where are they to live? Sadly, my guess is nursing homes. If people are sufficiently disabled (i.e., they need assistance with activities of daily living) and have nowhere else to go, case managers will have an obligation to help transition these individuals to a “safe” place. Adult foster care? Group homes? Nursing homes? Yes, not my idea of safe, but it’s where the difficult-to-place get placed.

So, in the way, by failing to protect the freedom of voucher recipients, we take away independence. Instead of contributing to the cost of a community-based housing voucher, taxpayers can take on the $5000+ expense of a nursing home.

And why? Because certain councillors don’t want landlords to have to accept all sources of income. The proposal does not require landlords to accept voucher holders no matter what – it merely forbids them from turning people away solely based on the source of their income. Why would a landlord reject income? Money is money. Who cares where it comes from?

Maybe the problem is not actually the money, but rather the person offering it.

Fortunately, the tie vote resulted in the proposal being sent back to the Rules and Public Policy Committee. A new hearing will be held January 27th. Talk to your Councillors and share your solutions!