Section 8 debate at the Capitol

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Up at the Capitol today there was a debate over low income housing.  Senate Bill 175 seeks to allow landlords to refuse government assistance as a form of income for low-income families.

Opponents of the bill say it would eliminate or undermine a source of income protection for low income families which would then lead to discrimination.  The bill would modify provisions in the Utah Fair Housing Act that would deny Section 8 vouchers as a form of payment assistance and that landlords refusal to participate in the program would not classify as a form of source income discrimination.   Obviously, opponents don’t see it that way.

“I think the potential element for discrimination should be looked at.  How can we ensure – if this went through – that they are choosing to not house because they’re participating in the program but, in fact, they did not discriminate based on other protective classes.  I think that it’s a very real thing to look at. That may need some kind of careful examination.  I think the other piece is that this really wont affect the system that much, that individuals with vouchers will still have more than an ample amount of units available to them and I think there’s disagreement there.  We believe that that wont be true.  That in fact this will limit many people who get a voucher from finding a unit, and that in fact could have long term consequences,” says Zach Bale, Director of Operations for the Salt Lake County Housing Authority.

The Salt Lake County Housing Authority say their agency have about 2,455 vouchers available, across the state there are about 11,000 vouchers for low income families.  about 50% of people who utilize these vouchers are people with disabilities and families with children.  Seniors make up 20%.  There are also vouchers set aside for veterans to help them out get into housing.  Those long term effects, Bale spoke about, could lead to a decrease in vouchers available.

“In fact it could limit how much assistance the state has and has over time for individuals.  The number of vouchers we have available link to how well we use them and how each housing authority leases out the quality we have, and if there’s significant head wind to that, in fact, we could be harming a great resource we need to keep,” says Bale.

But proponents of the bill believe government mandated intervention actually harms fair housing.

“Our opinion is that Section 8 program works better in states where there’s choice, and let me explain why landlords so despise working with some of the housing authorities that treat them so poorly.  That they artificially inflate their standards, they ask for higher deposits, they have higher screening criteria, and that ends up hurting affordable housing, and make less units available,” says Paul Smith Executive Director for  Utah Apartment Association.

Smith adds that other states, 41 to be exact, have passed similar legislation within their borders with no problems regarding Section 8.  He says the language for this bill was taken from the state of California and says that no other western state requires the state to work with the Section 8 program.  He also says the claims of discrimination are unfounded and points to what other states have done as an example.

“Because landlords don’t have to set their criteria or their deposits so high to avoid working with housing authorities who treat them so badly, landlords would be able to give a chance to low income tenants,” says Smith.

He says Section 8 would introduce market force to help build back the stock of affordable housing and increase affordable housings units available.  Opponents say landlords already have enough tools and resources to help them.

“Certainly it seems like the state in general is pro-business and pro-landlord rights and certainly we would agree than landlords have a lot of different rights and tools they can use to select who they would let to live in their units. They can price them, they can price out of what a voucher could pay if they choose not to accept Section 8 vouchers.  They could put limits on background and restrictions on who could live in their units.  They could set certain credit score levels, so, I think from our perspective there’s already a number of tools that landlords can use to really protect their rights and protect their assets and property,” says Bale.

Opponents say the bill hasn’t been vetted properly and there needs to be a longer discussion on the bill before action is taken.

Meanwhile, the bill hit the Senate floor this morning.  We reached out to the chief sponsor of the bill, Senator Dayton, but she was not interested in speaking about the bill.

The Utah Apartment Association says they’ve been working with housing authorities for 8 years to bring this bill into fruition.  They add this is the third year of trying and say they are interested in finding a mutual and beneficial solution.


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