In California, many Section 8 tenants are fighting against various forms of housing discrimination, an issue that often impedes their stability and can leave them under financial duress.
As the largest federal housing program in the US, Section 8 programs provide housing subsidies sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. The tenant pays approximately 30 percent of income to rent and the rest is paid directly by the housing authority to the landlord for a specific amount.
Recently, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office secured a payment agreement against three local landlords in a lawsuit requiring them to accept their tenant’s Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, educate themselves on fair housing training, and pay for the tenant’s restitutions. The City lawsuit, filed in February 2021, stated that the landlords were complicit in unfair discrimination against Liliana, a LAFLA client who is a low-income, disabled senior.
Senior Attorney Denise McGranahan and Staff Attorney Romy Ganschow, members of LAFLA’s Santa Monica team, successfully advocated for Liliana’s right to use her Section 8 Housing Voucher and remain in her apartment. Despite living in her apartment for 25 years, Liliana could only come off the waitlist for a Section 8 voucher at the end of 2021. Her landlords refused to allow her to use her voucher, creating extreme financial hardship. Romy filed a complaint with the City Attorney’s office, leading to the city filing a lawsuit against the local landlords, which was settled successfully for Liliana this summer.
LAFLA has a long history of securing protections for Section 8 voucher holders and fighting against widespread housing discrimination. Despite select programs restricting Section 8 housing discrimination by landlords, there is no federal Section 8 law to protect tenants. LAFLA has litigated major cases and turned towards local collaborations and partnerships to create recommendations passing the prohibition of housing discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders. In 2015, Santa Monica passed a law banning source of income (SOI) discrimination, specifically covering Section 8 discrimination. After the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles challenged that law on constitutional and preemption grounds, LAFLA, along with Western Center on Law and Poverty, intervened on behalf of the City, resulting in the law being upheld. After both San Francisco’s and Santa Monica’s laws were upheld, Los Angeles city and county followed suit, also banning SOI discrimination. Then, effective January 1, 2020, the State of California amended its SOI discrimination law in FEHA, prohibiting Section 8 discrimination statewide.
Historically, numerous private landlords throughout California (and throughout the country) have both advertised that they do not accept Section 8 tenants and their vouchers. When landlords rent to Section 8 tenants, they are guaranteed the majority of the rent, and housing authorities do criminal background checks on all voucher holders.This discrimination creates segregation and makes it very difficult for Section 8 participants, many of whom are unhoused or precariously housed, to utilize their vouchers, within the time period allotted, usually 60-120 days.
According to Denise, what is essential to protecting voucher holders is “a combination of widespread enforcement of the laws we now have to stop this insidious discrimination and increases in payment standards,” which is the amount of rent a voucher holder can pay for an apartment. With increasing rent prices, finding an affordable unit for a voucher holder is very challenging. Denise also suggests that unhoused people face various other challenges to securing stable housing, such as poor credit, no credit, no rental history, criminal backgrounds, and prior evictions. Enforcement of SOI laws and new laws that would reduce these barriers are crucial to “making the voucher program part of the solution to homelessness.”
LAFLA is committed to protecting people like Liliana, who, as a senior, needs affordable and stable housing. After being severely rent-burdened, Liliana will be able to pay just 30 percent of her income to rent. “It was a long fight, and I’m very grateful to both Ms. McGranahan and Mr. Rhoades,” said Liliana, referring to Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. “I hope my case can help other residents of Santa Monica who don’t know their rights and are in the same position as me.”
Denise believes that we need more outreach to and education of prospective landlords and tenants regarding the existence of these Section 8 anti-discrimination laws and how the Section 8 program works. In addition, she emphasizes that enforcement of anti-housing discrimination laws for Section 8 tenants is “absolutely critical to reducing homelessness and poverty in California.” Denise adds, “LAFLA is always willing to provide training to tenant groups, social work agencies, and even landlords about Section 8 voucher discrimination.”
If you would like to learn more about Liliana’s story, click here.
LAFLA’s advocates can help with:
- Counsel and advice related to housing issues, discrimination, and evictions
- Challenges related to Section 8 or public housing
- Protection of rights under local rent control laws
Tenants facing eviction or seeking information about their rights can contact Stay Housed L.A. by calling 888-694-0040 or visiting StayHousedLA.org.