‘No Section 8.’
You’ll find those words on rental listings across the country. Landlords use them to deter people who rely on the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, from applying for their units.
Starting in January, a new California law will make that discrimination illegal.
Senate Bill 329, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, prohibits landlords in the state from rejecting tenants based solely on their use of the vouchers.
More than 300,000 Californians rely on the benefit, which provides rental assistance to low-income residents. To qualify, a household must have an income of less than 80 percent of an area’s median income.
Special consideration is given to parents of young children and those experiencing homelessness.
Raphaella Fontenot, a 33-year-old single-mother, knows the value of the voucher program.
With a past eviction and no money for housing, Fontenot gave birth to her daughter, Zion, while homeless 18 months ago.
Now, with help from the community nonprofit Sacramento Covered, she receives federal vouchers which pay 70 percent of the rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Sacramento. Fontenot pays the rest.
“This voucher meant everything for me,” she said, as her daughter sat on her lap, clutching a Teddy Bear, at the nonprofit’s office. “With her I needed, obviously, stability. But the voucher gave me the ability to kind of set back and decide where I needed to be and provide for her.”
Mary Ellen Shay manages the California Association of Housing Authorities, which co-sponsored the new law. She said she’s hopeful it will make the already difficult search for housing a bit easier.
“It’s not uncommon for a voucher holder to search for six to 12 months to find a unit that meets all the requirements of the voucher program,” Shay said.
The California Apartment Association opposed the new law. The group represents apartment owners, managers, developers and investors.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law in October, the group wrote on its website, “CAA has concerns that landlords who reject Section 8 applicants, even after giving them fair consideration, will face legal challenges. Litigation may become particularly likely if the rejected voucher holder is the only applicant for a unit.”
Shay said the law doesn’t force landlords to accept anyone. They can still use credit and background checks to decide who to rent to.
But for those searching for housing, it might add some dignity to the process, Fontenot said.
“I think it will make a huge difference because it will give each individual a chance to be an individual and not just a piece of paper,” she added.
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