Published December 1st, 2023 at 10:25 AM3 minute read
Kansas City landlords can legally refuse to rent to someone with a housing voucher.
That’s what happened to renter and KC Tenants leader Ashley Johnson years ago, when she was searching for a home for her and her daughter.
“I contacted over 55 rental properties, just to be told, ‘At this time, we are not taking voucher holders,’” Johnson said. “Eventually, my daughter and I were unhoused because no landlord would accept my housing voucher.”
A new ordinance Mayor Quinton Lucas introduced Thursday would ban that practice and make it illegal for landlords to deny a prospective tenant because of how they pay rent. Advocates say banning the practice — called “source of income discrimination” — will open more doors for poor and working-class tenants to find affordable housing without restrictions.
Councilmembers Eric Bunch, Ryana Parks-Shaw, Darrell Curls, Jonathan Duncan and Andrea Bough have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation, which was crafted by KC Tenants.
“This legislation will help remove historical racial barriers of redlining in our city,” Councilmember Duncan said. “It will give families the freedom to choose where they want to live, not where a landlord will allow them to live.”
According to KC Tenants, more than 8,000 people in Kansas City use a federal Section 8 voucher, also known as a Housing Choice Voucher, to pay rent. The waitlist is even longer. The Housing Authority of Kansas City, which administers vouchers, said earlier this year that 10,000 people were still waiting for one.
Residents who receive a Section 8 voucher have a limited amount of time — about 30 days — to find a place to live that will accept the voucher.
But in ads for apartments, landlords can list a bevy of requirements — no Section 8, no evictions, a favorable credit score — which disproportionately rule out Black and working-class families.
Alaysha Jenkins, a KC Tenants leader, said she was forced to settle for a home for her and her daughter because her voucher was three days away from expiring. She says if she had a choice in where she lived, she would have picked a home closer to a community center and a library.
“I use a voucher. I’m also a single mom and I homeschool my two daughters,” Jenkins said. “I work hard and I’m smart. My money is just as good as anyone else’s.”
The proposed legislation would prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential tenants and refusing to rent to them based on their source of income, use of public programs like a Section 8 voucher, credit score, prior eviction history, convictions and arrests. The legislation also states that landlords cannot refuse to comply with any program requirements for tenants who receive any type of public assistance.
Landlords found in violation would receive a $1,000 fine for each offense. Repeat offenders would then be placed on probation under Kansas City’s Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program, which requires all landlords to file a permit with the city.
Under probation, the landlord would be prohibited from filing an eviction against tenants who could not renew their lease because of discrimination. The landlord must also share rental advertisements and application material with the city and refund application fees to tenants.
Tenants who believe a landlord is discriminating against them on the basis of income would be able to file a complaint through the 311 hotline or with the city’s Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Department, which would oversee the program.
More than 120 jurisdictions so far have passed a ban on source of income discrimination, including St. Louis, Denver and Memphis. Advocates for the policy say if it passes in Kansas City, it will be the strongest source of income discrimination ban in the country because it calls on the city to proactively analyze rental housing ads for discriminatory language.
“We don’t want the city to wait to hear about discrimination,” said KC Tenants leader Brandon Henderson. “We want the city to go out looking for it.”
Henderson said the proposed policy would also require the city to educate landlords should the law change.
Language banning source of income discrimination was initially included in the Tenants’ Bill of Rights in 2019, but was ultimately removed after pushback from landlords.
Henderson said Kansas City has changed since then, and that the growth of KC Tenants and the increase in cities passing similar bans is building momentum.
Mayor Lucas said the ordinance is common sense.
“We need to make sure that when people come out, when people say this can’t be done, when people say it’s too aggressive, you say, ‘No, we’re gonna be fair,’” he said. “Because we want to make sure that if somebody comes in, has lawful income, has a lawful source of how they can actually rent, they have a chance to be somewhere.”