Yesterday, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia gave an interview on Chicago’s WBEZ radio about the Housing Choice Voucher program. (HCV). The commissioner is working together with housing advocates to amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) to include protections for housing choice voucher holders.
The Ordinance currently protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of a person’s source of income (i.e., child support, social security). The CCHRO however specifically exempts from protection persons with “Section 8” Housing Choice Vouchers. Presently, housing providers can and do deny qualified households solely because they have a Housing Choice Voucher. Studies have shown that housing providers often refuse to rent to voucher holders as a pretext for other types of illegal discrimination such as race, familial status, and disability. This keeps African-Americans, Latinos, families, and people with disabilities in poor, segregated, and low opportunity towns and neighborhoods. Efforts are being made to get the Cook County Board to soon consider an amendment making it illegal to discriminate against voucher holders.
Currently, only 5% of the renter’s in Suburban Cook County have housing choice vouchers. The majority of voucher holders are families with children, followed by people with disabilities, the elderly, and veterans. Voucher holders are screened by the housing authorities, but this does not preclude landlord screening. This ensures that voucher holders are fully prepared to meet the obligations of tenancy.
The real estate industry, landlords and some members of the public are opposed towards the introduction of the voucher basically because of several misconceptions about the program. The public image of voucher holders is negative. However, it is often a proxy for racial discrimination. Shanton Mathis, a student and working mother testified that she was turned away several times by Landlords who refused to accept her voucher.
In his interview, Commissioner Garcia said; “I have received a variety of letters. Some of them are very hostile against people of color, against poor people. There is an old stereotype that the only people who have housing choice vouchers are criminals, are lazy people, people dependent on government or that they’re unruly or dirty.”
However, if the ordinance is changed, it wouldn’t make landlords automatically rent to voucher holders. Participation is voluntary. Property owners do not have to take voucher holders. They only have to give voucher holders an opportunity to rent. Owners can still run background checks and can deny a voucher holder based on their rental or criminal histories for example. The change simply means renters won’t get the door slammed in their faces upon arrival and people like Shanton Mathis will have the opportunity to provide their children with a better life.