A win taking on source of income discrimination

November 30, 2021–The Law Center recently had a victory in the fight against source of income discrimination, a pervasive obstacle faced by tenants with housing subsidies seeking safe and stable housing. Tenants who use housing subsidies (such as Housing Choice Vouchers backed by the Department of Housing and Urban Renewal (“HUD”), or “Section 8” vouchers) are routinely turned away from rental opportunities by landlords who refuse to accept vouchers—even though the practice is illegal under Philadelphia law.

According to a study from the Urban Institute, only 33% of landlords in Philadelphia accept housing vouchers as a supplement to rent—and this rate is lower in higher-income neighborhoods. This gives Philadelphia the third-highest denial rate in the country. Housing instability can cause major disruption in employment, education, and physical and mental wellbeing. Options for renters who receive housing assistance and who have physical disabilities are even more limited, particularly when ambulatory difficulties require them to live either on the first floor or in an accessible building with a working elevator.  Read more about source of income discrimination, and Philadelphia ordinances prohibiting it, here.

Earlier this year, a large Philadelphia landlord threatened six tenants with HUD-backed housing vouchers with non-renewal of their leases merely because they rent with a voucher. All six of the tenants have significant physical disabilities and mobility issues, and most are seniors. The landlord’s conduct violated both the local Philadelphia law prohibiting source of income discrimination as well as the federal Fair Housing Act which makes it illegal to discriminate against tenants based on the tenant’s race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin (emphasis added)The Law Center, representing the first tenant who faced a non-renewal notice, was able to reach a resolution in which the landlord agreed to extend a lease-renewal and continue accepting the subsidy. And we anticipate the landlord will extend lease renewals and continue accepting subsidies when the remaining tenants’ leases expire.

The Law Center’s recent Disability Rights Policy Circle identified the lack of accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities as a critical issue in Philadelphia. Philadelphia residents have the highest rate of physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities among large U.S. cities, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Thousands of individuals with disabilities are unable to access safe affordable housing, resulting in high rates of homelessness and housing instability.