Senate Advances Bill Preventing Cities, Counties From Banning Housing Voucher Discrimination

Feb 20, 2020

Cities and counties would not be allowed to ban housing voucher discrimination under a bill that advanced in an Iowa Senate committee Thursday.

Federal housing assistance in the form of a voucher allows low-income families to choose a place to live. The federal government covers part of the cost of rent. A local public housing agency administers the funding and enters into a contract with the landlord in addition to the tenant’s lease. The landlord is responsible for maintaining certain health and safety standards.

Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, proposed the bill.

“We’re forcing a private entity to partake in a contract that they had no choice,” Edler said. “That is the issue.”

Des Moines, Iowa City and Marion already have ordinances banning landlords from refusing tenants based on their source of income. They can still deny potential tenants based on other factors, like criminal history.

Edler said he is willing to talk with the three cities about why they think those regulations are necessary.

Edler’s original bill would have banned local ordinances that prohibit landlords from discriminating based on any kind of housing assistance. But the version that Republicans advanced out of the Senate Local Government Committee would only exclude housing choice voucher recipients from these local protections.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the bill is unacceptable.

“Allowing landlords to discriminate against people who use the federal housing vouchers is a way of discriminating against poor people,” Quirmbach said. “And I’m sorry, but I’m going to be blunt about this: it’s a way of allowing landlords to discriminate against black and brown people.”

Edler said this is not about race, and that “poverty knows no color.”

Housing discrimination based on race and several other factors is illegal.

But nationally, people of color are disproportionately represented among housing choice voucher recipients. A new report from Time magazine found housing voucher discrimination sometimes functions as racial discrimination.