Section 8 housing vouchers can become one step closer to being a source of income for housing applicants if Senate Bill 329 passes the final Assembly vote.
Currently under California law, Section 8 and similar vouchers for housing are not protected as a type of income. Unlike a regular source of income, which cannot be discriminated against under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), government assistance is not covered. This is due to the law only protecting a source of income that is “verified as paid directly to a tenant or paid to a representative of a tenant.”
Under SB 329, which was introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and co-authored by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), the wording would be changed to “verifiable income paid directly to a tenant, or paid to a housing owner or landlord on behalf of a tenant, including federal, state, or local public assistance and housing subsidies, as specified.”
The new language under the FEHA for discrimination will also now read “For the owner of any housing accommodation to discriminate against or harass any person because of the race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, disability, or genetic information of that person.”
Sen. Mitchell and other supporters of including ‘source of income,’ solidified that their reasoning behind the bill was to give more people housing in places where they otherwise couldn’t.
“This bill makes it clear that landlords cannot reject a tenant solely based on the fact that their rent is partially paid for by the government,” said Sen. Mitchell during Senate debate. “Across our state, Californians receiving housing assistance are struggling to use it effectively because of blanket policies of landlords who refuse to accept it. At the same time, local governments are increasingly turning to housing assistance as a way of shielding tenants from high housing costs and preventing homelessness.”
Daniel Cruz, a housing advocate in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles agreed, telling California Globe, “We’ve seen this way too much. We actually have lists of landlords here where they say no to people who have little beyond government help. It IS discrimination. They think they’re automatically going to be bad tenants.”
It should be noted, that in the bill, other restrictions still apply for housing applicants under the new law, including the use of credit checks to find the viability of a potential tenant.
On the other side of the issue are developers and landlords. The California Association of Realtors have said that SB 329 would essentially force landlords to accept Section 8. Opponents have also pointed out that this is another attempt at imposing rent control. Realtor and landlord groups have pointed to SB 329 being created shortly after the defeat of Proposition 10 in 2018, which would have imposed rent control laws in California. Prop 10 lost by a 60-40 margin in the statewide election, which the same groups have said prove that a majority of Californians don’t want more housing restrictions.
AB 1482, which would set a 5 percent cap plus inflation each year for rent hikes, is currently also rising through both houses. It’s currently on track to be passed by next Friday due to wide support in both houses and with the blessing of Governor Gavin Newsom thanks to a compromise he made on the bills’ language. SB 329 would be the dual threat. It would open up more long-term affordable housing to more people, but would leave realtors and landlords in a bind over the loss of potential profits over higher utilities and taxes as well as forcing them to accept a program most do not want or need.
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