Emily Deruy| San Jose Mercury News| Link to Article
Landlords in San Jose would no longer be able to advertise that they don’t take rental vouchers
San Jose took a step toward making it harder for landlords to turn away would-be tenants who use vouchers to help pay the rent.
This week, the San Jose City Council directed the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance aimed at giving renters with subsidies, commonly known as Section 8 vouchers, a fair chance on the private rental market. The so-called source of income ordinance would not force landlords to take the vouchers, but it would ban them from judging potential tenants who use subsidies differently from those who don’t and from explicitly advertising “No Section 8” on apartment listings.
If everything goes according to plan, the council will vote on the ordinance in the spring.
While a number of landlords blasted the proposal, saying it would force property owners to navigate convoluted regulations and paperwork, the city’s Housing Department said an ordinance is necessary to make sure families are able to find affordable housing.
Right now, there’s no law that prevents landlords from turning away voucher holders, and a city survey found most do, leaving low-income families scrambling to find homes in one of the nation’s tightest housing markets. Several national studies suggest that when cities and states have such ordinances in place, the percentage of landlords turning away voucher holders goes down and more people with vouchers are able to find places to rent.
“Voucher discrimination is happening in San Jose,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city’s housing director.
Several landlords told horror stories about Section 8 voucher holders who left rental units in bad shape. But tenants and tenant advocates countered that there’s no evidence voucher users are any better or worse than people who don’t use subsidies.
“We can’t judge the actions of a few and put it on the majority of the people,” said Robert Aguirre, who has used vouchers. “Not all Section 8 holders destroy property or disrespect the people around them.”
“We see clients all the time who are not able to rent housing, have to move away from San Jose, have to live in cars. … it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see that and this ordinance would help,” said Nadia Aziz, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
Mayor Sam Liccardo acknowledged that some landlords have “reasonable” concerns about the process of renting to voucher holders. Liccardo and several of his colleagues on the council asked staff to come up with a plan to streamline payment, reduce paperwork and mitigate risk to landlords.
“This is kind of turning into a bad marriage between the landlords and the city,” said JC Chadband, with Investment Property USA. The city had noble intentions, he said, but thought the ordinance would burden landlords, particularly individuals without the resources to navigate city, state and federal regulations. “I’m not sure how the landlords are going to handle this.”
If the ordinance ultimately passes, which would only happen after it is drafted and put out for public comment, landlords would still be able to evaluate potential tenants based on income, credit checks, criminal history and other criteria.
Some 17,000 people in Santa Clara County have access to vouchers, but some 2,000 go unused, in many cases because people struggle to find landlords who will take them. And according to Morales-Ferrand, some 4,000 voucher holders live in rent-controlled housing instead of in private rentals, when vouchers are meant to pay for rentals on the private market so restricted housing is free for other people who need affordable housing. Other times, vouchers expire before people can find an apartment, meaning the money is lost.
“We’re trying to tackle a crisis right now in affordable housing and homelessness,” Liccardo said, “and we need every dollar we can get.”
And, added Councilman Sergio Jimenez, those 2,000 vouchers “are very real people floating around the city trying to find a place to call home.”