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
(PHAs) 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 was introduced in the
112th Congress (H.R. 3030 and S. 1605).
Date of Report: December 21, 2012
Number of Pages: 13 Order Number: R42151 Price: $29.95
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