Seattle Income Discrimination Legislation Passed by City Council in Unanimous Vote

Although housing choice vouchers are legally recognized a sources of income in Seattle already and have been recognized since 1989 (for over 25 years), this recent addition to the Open Housing Ordinance, expanded those protections to include alternative sources of income like: pensions, unemployment benefits, social security income (SSI), child support, and any other governmental subsidy or nonprofit contribution-are now considered protected benefits. This addition to the original legislation was passed unanimously by city council after recommendations by the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee and represents a large step forward in the realm of fair housing and social justice. It was found by HALA studies, that not having other forms of the protected benefits mentioned above being protected allowed a system that perpetuated concentrated poverty and disproportionately affected minority populations (City of Seattle, 2016).

This law not only protects all sources of income to prevent income discrimination in housing by landlords, it also protects tenants from racist practices because it puts in place a “first come, first served” rule. This ensures that employees that work for specific companies, do not get treated differently or are given unfair preference when it comes to renting units-something that Seattle has seen a recent uptake in, as companies like Amazon and other corporations are considered “preferred employers” in the community, and therefore employees of these corporations are seen as having more of a competitive application. As summarized by Sponsor of this legislation, Lisa Herbold, "Tenants benefiting from preferred employer rental discounts aren't the tenants that need assistance in the affordability crisis Seattle faces." This legislation would also make it illegal for landlords to evict a tenant if they used other forms of income to pay rent, therefore not adding an additional barrier to the struggle of finding housing or disqualifying individuals and families from their Section 8 or Housing Choice Voucher (in some cases, dependent on local housing authority) (City of Seattle, 2016).

“As of 2015, nine states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Vermont – along with the District of Columbia have already passed bills outlawing discrimination against low-income renters. Cities and counties that have adopted similar anti-discrimination policies include Los Angeles, Miami-Dade County, New York City, Philadelphia” Seattle and Dallas, and California might be added to this list very soon with the recent introduction of Senate Bill 1053 (

Such Ordinances increase housing choice for low income individuals, and also provide solutions for concentrated poverty, decreases the stigma the low income individuals already face in the private rental market, and also decreases the likelihood that landlords are able to be racially motivated or show unfair preference to certain tenants over others, unique to the Seattle ordinance, using the idea of the “first in time” or in other words- first come, first served-thus preventing landlords for showing preference based on type of income, race or other factors in direct violation with the Fair Housing Act (Solid Ground).

In Ohio, only three surrounding suburbs have similar ordinances/protections in place for income discrimination and those communities are: University Heights, South Euclid and Warrensville Heights. However, as far as enforcement of such ordinances is concerned, it’s hard to say-with just 23,361 affordable, available units (at FMR, in which housing vouchers can be used) compared to the need of over 75,000 extremely low income households in need of those units (The Urban Institute).

Implementing an ordinance like this in Cuyahoga County would make more of those units accessible to more families and individuals that need them, and help make more units fit in the FMR range if they can use additional subsidies they receive as verifiable/ non-wage income. The push for a uniform law, enforceable at the Federal level, is essential to encourage client choice, decrease the stigma of voucher programs, and protect vulnerable populations that receive alternative forms of income in order to obtain safe, decent and affordable housing-especially in Metropolitan Areas that are already experiencing strains on affordable housing stock, like Seattle.

You can find more new stories on this recent legislation below:

To read the original ordinance as introduced by the Mayor to City Council below:

(*note: this ordinance amends the following sections of the Seattle Municipal Code: 14.08.015, 14.08.020, 14.08.040, 14.08.045, 14.08.060, 14.08.070 7and 14.08.190*)

You can see the subsidized available apartments relative to ELI family need on this interactive map here:

by Katy Carpenter

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Editor's Note:  We need this legislation locally.  A women with five children ranging from college to pre-schoolers of various sexes came to our office fleeing domestic violence with a housing voucher.  She could only find 4 apartments that had five bedrooms.  Two were horrible and none were in the suburbs where she wanted to live for the benefit of her children.  CSU Master's Student Eva McKnight argued for more fair housing protections including Source of Income protections.  The Housing Research and Advocacy Center published a report on the disparity in the current voucher system locally.  Finally, former Cleveland Tenants Organization Director and COHHIO Community Organizer, Spencer Wells discusses the failure of the Baltimore County Source of Income Anti-Discrimination legislation.