A recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project of Harvard University found that neighborhoods matter — every year a child spends in a better neighborhood increases that child’s income and success as an adult.
In November, the Miami-Dade County Commission helped protect almost 27,000 families with Section 8 vouchers from unjustified discrimination by giving them the chance to move into new neighborhoods.
Under the new ordinance, landlords in the county no longer can refuse to rent to a family because of the tenant’s source of income. “Source of income” means a tenant’s legal and verifiable income, and it includes Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Social Security benefits and Reemployment Assistance, among other types of income.
However, the new law has gone unnoticed by many landlords. Scroll through apartment listings on Craigslist, and many advertisements still include the phrase: “No Section 8.”
Section 8 is a federal program created to help low-income families, including the elderly and disabled, rent homes in the private rental market. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is administered locally by housing authorities. Tenants pay abouy 30 percent their income as rent, and the housing authority pays the remainder.
Vouchers allow low-income families to move into neighborhoods where there are no other affordable housing options. These neighborhoods often have increased economic opportunities, lower crime, improved transportation options and better schools. Vouchers promote diversity of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status in our neighborhoods.
However, many families are shut out of neighborhoods with high opportunity, not because of their suitability as tenants, but solely because the family receives rental assistance from the government. Many landlords categorically deny housing to families with Section 8 vouchers.
When this happens, it is often based upon stereotypes of low-income families.
Unfortunately, it can also be a pretext for other unlawful discrimination based on race or familial status.
When landlords are unwilling to rent to families with Section 8 vouchers, it limits where in the county these 27,000 families can live, it undercuts the purpose of the federal program and often traps these families in areas of high poverty.
By amending its ordinance, Miami-Dade County has joined 12 states and dozens of cities and counties across the country prohibiting discrimination based upon source of income.
We hope that this new protection will expand the housing options for Section 8 voucher holders, improve the lives of low-income families and increase the success of Miami-Dade County’s children.
Jeffrey M. Hearne, director of litigation, Legal Services of Greater Miami
Beverly Virues, Tenants’ Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law