In most of New York state, having enough money to pay rent doesn’t necessarily get you an apartment. In fact, most counties have no laws on the books to prevent building owners from discriminating against renters who rely on the use Section 8 housing vouchers, child support or other non-wage income to pay the rental bill every month.
The Statewide Source of Income Coalition, a mix of advocacy groups, is renewing a push for a statewide law that would end almost all forms of income discrimination for housing. And recent changes in the Albany power structure could pave the way for that to happen sooner rather than later.
“In some instances, we’ve been told, folks are told right up front ‘we don’t accept any form of public assistance,'” said Lorraine Collins, director of public policy at nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, one of the coalition groups.
Several local governments have passed their own non-discrimination bills in recent years, including New York City, where such profiling is now only allowed at buildings with six or fewer units. That captures the majority of New York City’s housing stock, but neglects large swaths of low-income areas, such as East New York and parts of the Bronx, where two- and three-family rental properties are common. A new Assembly bill supported by the coalition, introduced last month in Albany by Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter Mosley, would outlaw all income discrimination, except in cases where the two-family buildings are owner-occupied.
It’s not the first time Albany has taken up the issue. In 2010, a virtually identical bill got all the way to Democratic Gov. David Paterson’s desk, where it was surprisingly vetoed. Paterson cited “the heavy burden it would place on small New York property owners” in his rejection of the bill.
Collins said she was hopeful that the recent decision by State Senator Jeff Klein to disband the Independent Democratic Conference and rejoin with mainline Democrats in Albany (if it happens) would be good news for the bill’s future. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for the measure in the past, making an amendment to New York’s Human Rights Law part of his “Women’s Equality Agenda” in 2013.
Critics of anti-income discrimination laws say they fly in the face of Congress’ intentions when it instated the Section 8 voucher program in 1974. In 2008, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a City Council bill prohibiting source of income discrimination, arguing that it “essentially makes a voluntary government program involuntary.”
The bill’s sponsor was Bill de Blasio and the council overrode the veto by a vote of 39-8.
In addition to Enterprise Community Partners, the Statewide Source of Income Coalition is led by the Fair Housing Justice Center, ERASE Racism and the New York Housing Conference.