Housing discrimination based on source of income could become illegal in R.I.

By: Ellie Romano

Email: ERomano@ABC6.com

Twitter: @ERomanoABC6

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – A bill that would ban discrimination in housing based on a person’s source of income is making its way through the Senate.

The bill was introduced by Senator Harold Metts (D-Providence). It was sparked by the discrimination of renters who use Section 8 housing vouchers.

The vouchers are given out by the federal government to assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. 

A Section 8 participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects. A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. 

However, in Rhode Island, there’s no law that states a landlord has to accept the housing voucher. So, if they don’t want to, they don’t have to.

“That’s discrimination. People should not be discriminated against based on their source of income,” said Sen. Metts.

The waitlist to receive a voucher is 12-18 months. If a tenant is unable to secure housing in a reasonable amount of time, they will lose the voucher. 

“Your source of income shouldn’t matter. If anything you’re going to get a good quality tenant in there because their rent is going to be paid,” said Metts.

According to Southcoast Fair Housing, in 2019, renters with a voucher could afford a third of the apartments listed for rent but were shut out of 93% of available units. 

“It’s discrimination and prejudice raising its ugly head all over again. This is 2020. That should be out,” said Section 8 voucher user Malchus N. Mills.

Sen. Metts’ bill states no one can be “denied equal opportunity in obtaining housing” based on “lawful source of income,” which includes Section 8 vouchers, alimony, and any other government programs. 

“We need it. We need it badly,” said Mills. “It’s legal money. So what is the big deal?”

Mills wants to see the bill changed slightly to include policy enforcement. 

“If a bill has no teeth, no enforcement, then it’s just a piece of paper,” said Mills.

Senator Sam Bell (D-Providence) also wants to see the bill modified. He wants the legislation to include a preference for Section 8 renters.

“I think we should be able to encourage landlords to advertise saying ‘we want Section 8,'” said Sen. Bell. “Landlords should be able to prefer a tenant because it’s a guaranteed source of income.”

But members of the Senate Judiciary Committee worry that would be another form of discrimination.

“Don’t spin it,” Sen. Stephen Archambault (D-Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston) said to Sen. Bell. “The intent of the bill is not to be discriminatory.”

The bill passed in the Senate last year. Sen. Metts is hopeful the bill will make it through the House this year, and eventually to the governor’s desk.

“I like the bill exactly like it is,” said Metts. 

©WLNE-TV/ABC 6 2020

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