Back in February, we reported the ongoing efforts by housing advocates and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, to amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) to include protections for housing choice voucher holders. On May 8, 2013, the Cook County Board voted 9-6 to exclude section 8 as a non-source of income protection. The amendment will extend significant protections to section 8 recipients, minorities and people with disabilities.
The new law amends the county’s human rights ordinance to effectively prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to potential tenants on the basis of their participation in the section 8 voucher program. A similar policy has been in place in the city of Chicago since 2003. Six other municipalities in Illinois, ten states, the District of Columbia, and ten counties across the country have laws in place that protect individuals from discrimination based on using housing choice vouchers.
Many obstacles inhibited the progress of this amendment. This included stereotypes surrounding voucher holders. Many housing providers assumed vouchers holders will be bad neighbors and decrease property value or will bring crime. That stereotype builds from the fact that, because voucher holders are often refused housing, they are forced to live in high crime, high poverty neighborhoods and communities where the vouchers are accepted. Additionally, studies have proven that housing providers refuse to rent to voucher holders as a pretext for other types of illegal discrimination based on race, familial status, and disability. There was also some opposition from realtors and landlord groups who have argued that the amendment would restrict landlords' freedom to participate in a government program.
However, voucher holders are some of the most scrutinized tenants and must meet the rigorous criteria of the voucher administration as well as comply with lease provisions. Nearly 40% of voucher recipients are employed and more than 30% are seniors or persons with disabilities. There is absolutely no evidence that persons who use housing choice vouchers make increase crime in communities. Landlords only have to complete three forms. Payments made by the housing authority are made electronically. Units must pass a Housing Quality Standards inspection and voucher recipients have to complete most of the paperwork.
Commissioner Garcia noted, “The adoption of this amendment would remove a cloud that has hung over Cook County government for many years. Currently our human rights amendment allows [landlords] to declare less advantaged persons in Cook County as persona non grata – that means people who are not welcome.” County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also expressed her support for the proposal prior to the board’s vote. The vote to amend the Ordinance ensures that those with housing choice vouchers will no longer be legally discriminated against based on their sources of income. It also sounds the warning that discrimination of this type will no longer be tolerated in Cook County!