Thursday, February 5, 2009

THE PIT BULL CAN STAY, BUT YOU?

THE PIT BULL CAN STAY, BUT YOU?: It’s good news bad news Senate bill 456 to stop housing discrimination against people and families that receive federal housing subsidy vouchers through the county housing agency- a subject we wrote about twice recently.

The bad news is that without testimony the bill in Sen. Roz Baker’s Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection could die, according to Anne Punohu of the Kaua`i Fair Housing Law Coalition

But the good news is that representative Mina Morita and four others have introduced a house companion bill HB 1274.

Anne’s testimony is an in depth look at the real problems HUD Section 8 recipients face and a good description of what the bill would do and what it wouldn’t do. It is presented here to give those who care about the issue and want to testify some ideas on what to say.

Testimony can be emailed for now to Committee Chair Roz Baker at senbaker@Capitol.hawaii.gov along with a request to schedule a hearing


STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF SENATE BILL SB456
HOUSING – DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SOURCE OF INCOME -
Anne Punohu, organizer Kauai Fair Housing Law Coalition, HUD OK NOW

The coalition testifies today in support of SB456 which would prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on the source of their income.


Decent housing is a fundamental right. The protection of the human dignity of every person and the right to a decent home require both individual action and structural policies and practices. Our concern is not simply for houses or programs but for the people who inhabit these dwellings or are affected by these programs. The statistics we cite are not simply numbers or points on a graph; they are individual human tragedies.

Governor Linda Lingle has estimated that as many as 15,000 people may be homeless in our state. According to a recent national study, in regards to housing discrimination faced by Asians and Pacific Islanders, the discrimination rates held at 37% percent, the same rate as for African Americans. The statistics in large part came from the state of Hawaii. HUD Choice Voucher lists are currently closed on O`ahu, due to not enough people moving off the lists to make way for new people to sign up. Reports have been stated that up to 60% percent of individuals who obtained HUD Choice Vouchers were unable to use them. Not because they suddenly found a rental on their own, or came into a lot of money but because they simply could not find a rental that, in many cases would accept HUD Choice Vouchers.

Our coalition made over 250 calls to individuals who placed rental ads in our local newspaper on Kauai. At times, the rates of ads stating “No HUD” was at 40%, not including vacation rentals. Cold calls were made, sometimes 4 and 5 times to the same phone number, using different voices and personalities. 80% of the time, the caller would originally site one of three main options for their discrimination. They were: Ignorance of the HUD program, not liking HUD paperwork or inspections, or a previous bad renter.

(However, although we realize that a minute percentage of these reasons may be legitimate, we are of the opinion that these are superficial and unsubstantiated reasons for discrimination. HUD has paperwork, yes, but it is no more cumbersome than anyone else’s, and the inspections are based on current codes. As for bad renters they happen without someone being on HUD.)

After these initial responses were brought forth, we continued to engage the landlords in conversation, and were able to obtain numerous statements that were made verbally stating preferences, prejudices and opinions which violated the Federal Law, such as familial status, race, age and disability, the four most frequently mentioned categories.

(In addition, after we held a public meeting, we received calls from individuals that stated that they were discriminating, but may be willing to pull their ads which made the “No HUD, or No Section 8”, voluntarily, and we also heard of some success stories where individuals which had been adverse to renting to HUD were now willing to try it.)

Our coalition is of the strong opinion that even though these may be some improvements, this law is necessary to ensure a continuing “safety net” during these most difficult of economic times for these individuals and families.

The assumption that at this time some people may be more willing to rent to HUD clients does not erase the cold hard fact that during most of these phone calls we made, the majority of those who would consider it were more concerned with how to evict the tenants rather than how to keep them.

This is a red flag to all concerned, and accurately reflects what will happen to those who may have benefited in the short term, and may suffer in the long term.

(Our coalition does want to express our general opinion that there are many rental agents and rental companies that have an excellent working relationship both with HUD agencies and clients. This law is not aimed at rental agents and rental companies. We wish to make that case very clear. This law is in the name of equity, across the board, and would involve any rental regardless of whether it came from a rental agent, a rental company or a private sector landlord.)

To give you two examples of the types of answers we received over the phone, here follows two different quotes from landlords :

(Again we wish to clarify that these were private individuals, and not rental agents or rental companies).

CALL #1

“This is an upscale neighborhood.(Wailua house lots, typically an area full of local Hawaii residents of mixed ancestry).We are getting rid of these people here, and we are making our neighborhood nice now. You can park a car here and not get it broken into now. We don't have those people around here, so don't worry, you will like it.”*This was a woman who responded, for this call we were assuming the personality of someone who had recently moved here from California, had a job, and was inquiring about the rental.

Same woman, second time calling different personality:

“No, no, no, no, we don't accept HUD. No. You are from here? Anahola, oh I see. Yes, well, you know we don't have a lot of room, here its only a two bedroom, we are not set up for HUD people here. And you know, you people have big families, and they all come over here with their cars and things. Do you work or have a job? Then why do you need that HUD thing? Well, we don't accept HUD here, no so sorry. Goodbye.”*The caller was responding to a personality claiming to be from Anahola, an area populated heavily with Native Hawaiians, and using a heavy pigeon accent.

CALL #2

“Hello? What? HUD? No, no, no, no, no, we don't accept those people here. No no, you have to be working to rent over here. No we don't want any lazy people here, and all those local guys they have too many cars and kids running all around, no, no way. Why are you calling me? I said no HUD in the ad. Is it legal for you to call me? Yea, I know that’s against the Federal law, that’s why I put that in there. That way I don't get calls from those bums.”*This in response to a call using our coalition name, and inquiring as to why the landlord stated no HUD.

Same man, second time calling different personality:

“What? Oh, yes, OK do you work? Oh, you have a kid? What is it boy or girl? Girl? That’s good, girls are quieter. Yes, that’s the rent. Do You work? That’s good. You have HUD? Oh we don't accept that here. Oh, you cant find a place huh. Where are you from.? California? Oh you just moved here? Oh well you sound nice. Do you do drugs? Well, I might consider it. Do you have parents? What do they do? Did you get a divorce or something? Well, I cant have any guys running around here, you know this is a respectable neighborhood. Well, I'm not sure, I don’t usually accept HUD. Well, Ill let you know. Give me your number.”*The man is responding to a different personality claiming to be a single mother, recently moved here from California and employed, on HUD.

The case for “source of income” legislation

These households are more than a figure in a table. They are real families experiencing the tragedies of homelessness or inadequate housing. The households are made up of parents and children, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. Each is affected by their family’s difficulty in affording an adequate place to live. Adults worry about how to pay utility, clothing, and food bills when the great majority of their income goes toward rent. When they can’t pay their rent, they strategize on moving between hotels, friends’ sofas, and shelters. Children suffer from exposure to unsafe and unstable living conditions.

The coalition holds that one of government’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that the most basic needs of its people are met. In the United States, our federal government does this, in part, through the Section 8 Rental Choice Voucher Program. Hawaii serves the housing needs of its lowest-income residents through the State’s Rental Allowance Program . However, though a family may be successful in accessing assistance through Section 8, or some other program, in most parts of Hawaii, they face yet another hurdle in their search for housing. Hawaii residents receiving housing assistance are often discriminated against in their search for housing.

It is common to see newspaper or internet ads that contain the words, “No Section 8.” It is more common for low-income Hawaii residents to hear this refrain when they inquire into available housing. Such discrimination is also faced by people who base their income, in part or in total, on disability assistance, cash assistance, child support, or alimony. To anyone who encounters it, the discrimination is frustrating and demoralizing.

Individuals and families having the lawful means to rent or buy housing should not be denied that housing based on where those means come from. Those with the income, credit-worthiness, and other applicable credentials to rent or buy – the single mom depending on child-support payments, the low-income family depending on a Section 8 voucher, the man depending on disability assistance, the elderly couple depending on a pension – none should be denied the opportunity to rent or buy because their incomes don’t come entirely from a job.

Recognizing housing as a fundamental human right, and also the severe hardships – including discrimination – low-income Hawaii residents face in finding housing they can afford, we respectfully ask that you give SB456 a favorable report. Thank you for your consideration.

SB456- HOUSING – DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SOURCE OF INCOME; Sponsor: Senator Gary Hooser


What does SB 456 do?

SB456 prohibits “source of income” discrimination against those seeking housing. That is, the bill prohibits landlords/sellers from discriminating against potential renters/buyers based on the source of their income.

What does “source of income” mean?

“Source of income” means any lawful source of money to be used in the rental or purchase of housing. It includes money from: (1) any lawful profession or occupation; (2) any government or private assistance, grant, loan, or rental assistance program, including Section 8 vouchers; (3) any gift, inheritance, pension, annuity, alimony, child support, or other consideration; (4) and any sale of property.

What does SB456 NOT do?

SB 4561 does NOT prohibit a landlord/seller from determining the ability of a potential renter/buyer to pay a rent/purchase price, by: (1) verifying the source and amount of income of the renter/buyer; and (2) evaluating the stability, security, and credit‐worthiness of the renter/buyer or their source of income. SB 456 does NOT prevent a landlord/seller from refusing to consider income derived from any criminal activity.

Who would benefit from the passage of SB 456?

Individuals and families planning to rent/buy housing, in part or in full, with income from Section 8 vouchers, Rental Allowance Program subsidies, disability payments, Temporary Cash Assistance grants, pensions, alimony, child support, and other lawful sources of income.

Why should SB456 be passed?

Individuals and families having the lawful means to rent/buy housing should not be denied that housing, based on where those means come from. Those with the income, credit worthiness, and other applicable credentials to rent/buy – the single mom depending on child support payments, the low‐income family depending on a Section 8 voucher, the man depending on disability payments, the elderly couple depending on a pension – none should be denied the opportunity to rent/buy because their incomes don’t come entirely from a job.

Does source of income discrimination happen?

Yes. It is common for landlords to refuse to consider applicants who will use a Section 8 voucher as part of their rental payment. This makes it difficult for Section 8 recipients – who may have spent years on waiting lists before receiving the vouchers – to find places where they can be used. It may also have the effect of clustering voucher users in the poorest sections of a community, where landlords receive few rental applicants.

Is source of income discrimination already prohibited in other places?

Yes. In Maryland, Howard and Montgomery Counties have laws prohibiting source of income discrimination, as does the city of Frederick. Nationwide, twelve states (CA, CT, ME, MA, MN, NJ, ND, OK, OR, UT, VT, WI) and the District of Columbia have housing laws that prohibit source of income discrimination. Several cities and counties – including, as of last month, New York City , and now the State of New York– also have such laws.

Kauai Fair Housing Law Coalition
C/O
Anne Punohu
4417 Maka Rd #3A
Kalaheo, HI 96741
Phone: (808)332-0341
email: coalitionkauai@yahoo.com

2 comments:

wilwelsh2 said...

I am a property manager and do not discriminate against HUD renters. My feeling is that I want responsible renters who will pay on time and take care of the property. The problem comes in dealing with HUD--not just paperwork, but attitudes and changing of criteria so that it's often difficult to know how to work with a HUD applicant, and the applicant him/herself are often caught up in the ambiguity from HUD.

Andy Parx said...

Absolutely Will- Thanks so much for providing that “from the horse’s mouth”. I’ve tried to stress that in writing about this but HUD still has this attitude that it’s the tenants fault no matter what happens. The federal HUD people have been on our county housing agency’s case for doing everything back assward and dozens of other problems so the county keeps changing the rules- often on a whim- and both tenant and landlord are always playing catch-up and never knowing what the rules are.