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 (Affordablehousing.com).

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:

http://murray.seattle.gov/murray-proposes-ordinance-to-protect-renters-against-discrimination-based-on-source-of-income/#sthash.g8xMnYOi.dpbs

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/politics/article/City-Council-bans-rental-discrimination-based-on-9130344.php

http://rhawa.org/Blog/post/2016/07/14/Seattle-source-of-income-discrimination-legislation-raises-issue-of-e2809cWhate28099s-in-a-namee2809d.aspx

https://www.solid-ground.org/broaden-source-of-income-protections/

http://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2016/5/31/parking-renting-endorsing-and-regulating

http://murray.seattle.gov/murray-proposes-ordinance-to-protect-renters-against-discrimination-based-on-source-of-income/#sthash.g8xMnYOi.OzjSVCkw.dpbs

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

http://murray.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/OCR-Alternative-Source-of-Income-Discrimination-ORD.pdf

(*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: http://apps.urban.org/features/rental-housing-crisis-map/

by Katy Carpenter

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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. 

Thanks for the Help to Sign Up for Housing

NEOCH Signed 255 People up for Housing Voucher Last Week

            NEOCH participated in a major effort to house the homeless the week of August 3 – 7 by getting them signed up for the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. Through this effort we were able to sign up 255 homeless and at risk individuals for the housing voucher waiting list. Based on previous lottery statistics NEOCH estimate that 36**of these individuals will be offered a housing choice voucher. NEOCH recruited 24 volunteers with the help of HandsOn Northeast Ohio.  These volunteers brought their laptops, tablets and smartphones to 12 homeless shelters and drop-in centers and spent a total of 80 hours signing up homeless members of the Cleveland community for housing.

            The CMHA housing choice voucher program (HCVP) was formerly known as Section 8. This voucher can be the ticket out of homelessness to those that receive it.  However, the opportunity to sign up for this program is extremely rare. The HCVP only accepted applications for 5 days last week and this list only opens once every four years. Additionally, the application for the voucher program is only available online.

The infrequency of the HCVP combined with the online-only application, make this program difficult for homeless people to access. NEOCH saw the need to make the HCVP application accessible to homeless people as vital. The goal was to ensure that every homeless and at-risk person in Cleveland had a chance to fill out an application. With the help of our volunteers and several organizations, we believe we were able to come very close.

NEOCH would like to thank the Cleveland Tenants Organization and HandsOn Northeast Ohio for sending us volunteers from their staff. We would also like to thank the following organizations for allowing us to use space in their facility; 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter, Bishop Cosgrove Center, The City Mission, Laura’s Home, Northstar Neighborhood Re-entry Center and The LGBT Center of Cleveland. In addition to the 255 people NEOCH signed up, most of the local shelters dedicated staff and computers to sign up their residents.  We would like the facilities that hosted volunteers including: 2100 Lakeside, Laura’s Home, City Mission, Oriana House, Northstar Neighborhood re-entry and West Side Catholic Center. Lastly we could not have accomplished any of this without the help of volunteers. We would like to thank the following volunteers for their efforts; Fouad, Gina, Kathy, Sophia, Jessica, Shareasa, Mike, Jeramiah, Kris, Anne, Jennifer, James, Jeff, Beth and Kevin.

CMHA HCVP Sign-up Statistics

Total Applicants Assisted by volunteers: 255

Estimated # of people that will be housed due to this effort: ** (51 more likely)

Total Volunteers: 16

Total volunteer hours: 62

Average # of applications completed per volunteer shift: 8.2

Shelters and drop-in centers that hosted volunteers: 10

Megan the Intern

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**PS:  August 21--Found out that about 50,000 people applied when the lottery was open which means that people have a 1 in 5 chance so 51 people we signed up will most likely receive a voucher eventually.

You Can Help People Out of Homelessness This Week!!!

On Monday August 3rd the Cleveland Housing Voucher opens! Volunteers are needed to help people sign-up! The Housing Voucher application is only open for 5 days, Monday through Friday. Many people of the homeless community are not experienced enough with the Internet to access and qucikly fill out the application themselves. This is where you come in! Numerous places in the Cleveland area need volunteers to help people sign up at their location. Volunteers only need to be able to volunteer for 3 hours on a single night.  For every seven people that you help complete an application, you are guaranteed to get one person out of homelessness.

The last time the housing voucher opened up over 64,000 people signed up, and 10,000 people received access to housing. This year we are expecting the same numbers. Since the voucher program is only open for 5 days, there is a substantial need for volunteers. By volunteering you can make a huge and direct impact on the homeless community. NEOCH can offer the training and place you at a spot.  There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you had a clear influence on getting an individual off the streets. Call Megan at NEOCH at 216/432-0540 to volunteer or send her an e-mail advocacy (at) neoch (dot) org.

by Dan the Intern

Interesting CAHA update on CMHA

The Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting took place last week and the big news was that CMHA is going to have to open the Section 8 (Housing Choice Voucher Program) waiting list.  The last time it was opened was 2011 and 10,000 names were drawn.  The problem is that the list is getting stale with most of the people on the list no longer around.  They either do not respond or have relocated or are no longer in need.  It is most likely that this summer they will have to re-open the waiting list for the voucher program in August or July. 

Everything will be pretty similar to 2011 with the application open for 5 to 7 days exclusively online (no paper applications).  Everyone in need of housing or who suspects they will need help with the rent between now and 2020 should apply.  We will have more details in the near future.

Public Housing officials also attended and reported that there are 9,600 total units in the Public Housing inventory with 99% occupied.  There are now 20,700 people waiting on the wait list with 70% waiting for a single bedroom. The current Public Housing list is 36% families and 23% seniors.  25% of the residents do not have income and 20% are on Social Security.  18% are employed and 17% are on some form of disability.  In a sign of how trivial cash assistance is now in the world only 2% of the total population receive assistance from the welfare department. 

CMHA is starting to rebuild Cedar Estates and renovate Bohn Tower and the former Garden Valley apartments.  They are working on the final phase of Carver Park and renovating Riverside Park.  Some of these properties are being renovated using private bank financing, which had been prohibited in the past. 

The President's budget is favorable toward the housing authorities, but who knows how that will play out by October.  The Housing Authority is working on how these newly created units developed with private dollars will integrate into the public housing system.  This current system has the highest number of occupied units since 1988.  The Housing Choice Voucher program has 14,000 participants and the program but is under utilized.  Most people are not showing up for their appointments to fill the voucher program and the waiting list is rather stale.  CMHA officials estimate that they will exhaust the Housing Choice Voucher waiting list in May of this year. 

The Voucher program is working with the long term homeless, veterans and those aging out of the foster care system.  They are planning to assist with the Pay for Success program to keep the time spent in foster care down.   There are 60 to 70 who leave the program every month and there are only 2,700 left on the 2011 waiting list.  There are 305 in the Veterans program and more to give out. 

The next CAHA meeting will feature Bill Faith of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio on April 6, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

Brian Davis

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National Coalition for the Homeless Updates

The National Coalition for the Homeless has a new director, a new website, some new Board members and a renewed focus on community organizing and building a movement around housing and homelessness.  There are so many national groups focused on homelessness, but NCH has a 30 year history of focusing on Civil Rights and representing the interests of those living in shelters or on the streets.  They have a strong past including leading the passage of the McKinney Vento legislation that protects homeless children and funds all the shelters.  They have fought against laws directed at homeless people and raised awareness about hate crimes against those who spend time sleeping outside. 

It has been a rough few years for NCH with the downturn and a hostile administration who turned their back on poor people to focus on only the longest serving homeless people.  For most of the last 10 years even during the toughest times, NCH has made a commitment to dispelling the myths about homelessness with a speaker's bureau.  They had done presentations to tens of thousands of people over the years.  They have trained homeless and formerly homeless people to speak about their experiences and then they schedule them to speak before student groups and religious organizations.  These speakers answer questions and talk about their experiences in shelters, on waiting lists and trying to find help.   They help groups with alternative spring breaks to learn about homelessness by spending a few days on the streets of Washington.  They try to educate national groups about homelessness through people with first hand experience.  The goal is that we have done a horrible job in solving homelessness over the last 40 years in moving forward on solutions, and if we can teach the next generation why there are so many homeless maybe they will be able to solve this problem. 

A few new initiatives the staff are working on pushing is an expansion of the number of beds for homeless youth in the United States.  This goes along the lines of the hoodied mannequins placed around downtown Cleveland to raise awareness of the problem of homeless youth.  In much of the country, there are no beds available to homeless young people.  We are fortunate to have the VOA shelter for 18-24 year old males, and the LMM shelter for runaways.  In addition, we have Bellefaire working on building relationships with homeless youth who are moving from couch to couch.  NCH wants to protect the existing resources for homeless youth and expand significantly shelter space in America.

They are also working to restore housing vouchers in the United States.  The voucher program has been decimated over the last five years with budget cuts and Sequestration.  There is not much support in Washington for the voucher program and a great deal of misunderstanding about the program.  NCH wants to see an expansion of housing vouchers as a part of the solutions to homelessness in America.  NCH is also continuing its work on the rights of everyone to have access to shelter and working to supporting efforts to pass "Homleess Bills of Rights" across the country.

They could use your help.  NCH is a membership organization and could use your help in supporting this agenda.  If you care about finding solutions to homelessness in the United States, the National Coalition has a proven track record and the leadership to move forward on public policy that will lead to a reduction in homelessness. 

Brian

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Change.org Petition in Support of Suburban Privacy

The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an article about a brewing dispute between the suburbs and EDEN inc. over the rights for the suburban communities to know the addresses of all EDEN voucher holders.   [We have to identify for full disclosure that we have a board member who works for EDEN, but he had nothing to do with the development of the NEOCH position on this dispute or the petition on Change.org.]

We have started a Change.org petition to address this issue.  The First Suburbs Consortium demanded that EDEN turn over their list of addresses this summer before they would be willing to support public dollars going to the last Permanent Housing Project owned by EDEN.    Both Cuyahoga County and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have sided with EDEN saying that they do not have to turn over the names or addresses of their tenants. In fact, in the Plain Dealer article the County has stated that this would undermine fair housing laws and HUD weighed in with a letter in 2012 indicating that this is a poor policy and would undermine the local and national efforts to prevent and end homelessness.  We certainly agree with this position. 

The suburbs are claiming that they have successfully leveraged the list of voucher holders by CMHA Housing Choice Voucher Program and so therefore they should be allowed to get the same information from EDEN.  The difference is that nearly every voucher holder with EDEN is a disabled individual and many have struggled with homelessness. We objected to CMHA giving over this information so this is not a defense for invading the privacy of tenants.   There is no good reason for the suburbs to collect this information.  It will only make it more difficult to convince landlords to accept vouchers from EDEN if they have to deal with government and potentially neighbors raising objections. Remember, these are the same folks that wanted Section 8 tenants to have to go to "school" to learn how to live in the suburbs of Cleveland in a policy pushed by Cleveland Hts. Mayor Ed Kelley a couple of years back.

I have personally seen where a caller complained about a decaying property to a local suburb and the Development staff disclosed that the property was a "Section 8 tenant."  Even though this information is supposed to be confidential, the suburban staff identified the tenant as low income with the federal government paying part of their rent.  To the neighbors who are complaining, they hear this and think bad property is associated with a Housing Choice Voucher Tenant holder when in fact it is usually a bad landlord issue. We have witnessed the hate and misunderstandings associated with homeless and disabled people.  We believe that disclosure of CMHA voucher holders and certainly EDEN voucher holders will harm the program, leave tenants vulnerable to hate crimes and make landlords less likely to participate in these programs. 

We have set up a Change.org petition to encourage people to sign in opposition to this policy here.  Just click on the link and enter your name on the Change.org website.  Please join this campaign: http://chn.ge/1f8RF6A. We ask that if you talk to your local Mayor or City Council member that they oppose this policy of collecting the names of the disabled living in their community.  Please send us any responses that you get from your local community.  We all need to stand with EDEN and the tenants of EDEN in opposition to this invasion of privacy by the suburban communities. 

The First Suburbs Consortium has responded to the petition and tried to thread the needle that identifying addresses does not identify the names of the tenant.  This is a distinction without a difference.  The potential for hate or threats will be directed at all tenants who are receiving government help not a specific tenant.  This polarized culture we live in makes the risk too great to identify where a disabled tenant lives in this community.  If a community can rise up and spread myths and exaggerations about homeless people and homeless programs to stop the development of a brand new housing facility or pass off racism and classism as a movement to "reduce government" anything is possible.  They could not ask that MetroHealth release the addresses of its patients to see if they paid for ambulance runs and they should not ask EDEN to provide the addresses of their disabled clients for any reason.  

Please support our petition by signing it. 

Brian Davis

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More on the Local Impact of the Government Shutdown

Yesterday at the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting we learned a little more about the impact of the Federal Government shutdown on housing and homeless programs.   The FHA is still in business doing verification of home loans, unfortunately, the IRS is not in business to verify income.  This will grind the home sales market to a standstill eventually.   No one is working at HUD to sign off on projects currently under construction.  It makes it difficult to pay construction and tradesmen working on subsidized housing projects locally. Contrary to popular belief there are affordable housing projects being developed locally.   There are permanent supportive housing projects that are supposed to open this winter, but there is no one at HUD to sign off on the work.  

The Housing Authority has money available through the end of the calendar year for Public Housing.   The voucher program only has funds through the end of October.  No one knows what will happen after the witching hour of Halloween.  Will staff be furloughed?  Will rents be paid to landlords?   Will there be an attempt to prioritize which bills to pay.   There are already a mythology in the community about voucher holders and the impact on the neighborhoods with only half the available properties willing to accept a tenant receiving a subsidy from the Housing Choice Voucher program.  This would certainly cause harm to the organization and their image in the community if they run out of money because of the government shutdown. 

More to come...

Brian Davis

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Sequestration = Chaos and Confusion

Two CMHA officials gave their periodic update about the agency at the last CAHA meeting.  Media are not supposed to quote presenters at CAHA so that they can be free to be speak honestly.  But we can give you the basics of the meeting: Sequestration means chaos and confusion.  Throughout the federal government this week and with non-profit agencies receiving the bulk of their money from the federal government there are lots of meetings happening.  They are wasting human capital figuring out how to cut staff, travel, or other costs because Congress is so dysfunctional.  They are implementing what both parties agreed would never happen.  It has happened and it will have real consequences for people living in Public Housing. 

The issue is that both Public Housing and the Voucher Program are at nearly 100% occupied, and these cuts have to be across the board.  So they can not take any new people in like the Housing Choice Voucher program has decided to do, but eventually the 5% cut will catch up to involve evictions.  The other problem is that the agency received a huge cut last year and they were told to go into their reserves.  Then Congress never passed a budget and just continued the 2012 budget which was a still a substantial decrease.  Many are running low on their reserves and cannot continue unless there is a fix or restoration of cuts from last year.  The bigger problem for both agencies is the Continuing Resolution runs out at the end of March.  This great unknown of what will happen on March 28 is by far a bigger concern for the Housing Authority. 

Housing Authorities have been instructed to cut 5% across the board, but that is 5% for the year so each month is a much larger increase since we are well into the fiscal year.  For example, the Housing Authority only received 89% of what they were expecting for March because of Sequestration.  They are meeting all the time to figure out what to do.  So, instead of repairing units, finding additional revenue, or housing people they are wasting their time figuring out how to divide up 85% of the budget they need to stay open. Eventually, the tenants and landlords are going to feel the pain, but right now it is just a headache for the administration.  They may have to put off rebuilding projects or furlough staff.  They are committed to maintain the people currently in housing and making the last cut to people currently housed.  It was mentioned that this could result in more homeless people.  The sad fact is that the homeless shelters will also see a 5% cut.  The shelter cuts would not start being seen until the fall, but we are already seeing a backup in the shelters where no one is leaving.  So, the men's shelter is having issues where the communities are static and very few are moving into housing.  This is causing a back up at the front door and more people facing an overflow situation. 

Sequestration means chaos for Public Housing.  It means confusion and insecurity for the future of the voucher program.  We will see what happens over the next month, but right now it is a big waste of time that could be over if Congress would just do their jobs. 

Brian Davis

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