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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Possible Legal Issues Facing Landlords Who Choose Not to Accept Federal Housing Vouchers

Jane M. Smith
Legislative Attorney

In the 1980s and 1990s, the federal government fundamentally changed its approach to housing from one focused on building housing projects to one focused on subsidizing low-income individuals and families renting in the private rental market. Through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), commonly referred to as the Section 8 voucher program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides funds to local Public Housing Authorities (PHA) that, in turn, provide vouchers to families that they can use to subsidize their rents in the private market. HCVP is intended to increase housing availability for individuals and families and reduce the concentration of low income families in high poverty neighborhoods. However, much of the private rental market remains unavailable to low-income individuals and families. In part, this unavailability is due to the fact that many private landlords choose not to participate in the HCVP.

Dissatisfied with the amount of private housing available for low-income individuals and families receiving public assistance, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and 34 local jurisdictions have passed laws prohibiting housing discrimination based on source of income. To the extent source of income protections include HCVP vouchers, they require private landlords to accept the vouchers. Some landlords have challenged such laws, claiming that they conflict with the legislative intent behind the HCVP, which, they contend, Congress intentionally made a voluntary program. Four state supreme courts have upheld the laws, finding that, although Congress intended that HCVP would be voluntary, nothing in the HCVP prohibits states and local jurisdictions from making the HCVP mandatory in their jurisdictions.

In a few cases, individuals have sued landlords who choose not to accept HCVP vouchers or who discontinue accepting them, claiming that failure to accept the vouchers constitutes a violation of the Fair Housing Act. (FHA). The FHA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. These individuals have claimed that refusing to accept HCVP vouchers has a disparate impact on a protected class and thus violates the FHA. Such challenges have not been successful.

Congress has not enacted legislation to create a federal source of income discrimination law; however, legislation to do so has been introduced in the 112th Congress (H.R. 3030 and S. 1605).

Date of Report: January 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R42151
Price: $29.95

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