Housing is fundamental. Without it, securing other essential resources—like a high-quality public education, access to quality healthcare, and employment that pays a living wage—is an uphill battle. At the Public Interest Law Center, we strengthen existing laws and forge paths for Philadelphians to secure affordable and safe housing.
Philadelphia has an affordable housing crisis. More than 22% of our neighbors are living in poverty, and the majority of these families are severely cost-burdened, spending at least 50% of their income on rent. To help cover the cost of rent, about 22,000 Philadelphia households receive a Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8)—the federal government’s largest subsidy program. We could not stand by as Philadelphia landlords routinely refuse to rent to voucher holders in violation of a City ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on source of income. This discrimination denies families access to affordable housing, furthers racial segregation—about 92% of voucher holders identify as a racial minority—and concentrates poverty in certain neighborhoods.
The Law Center is the only non-profit in Philadelphia enforcing this vital tenant protection. And together with your donation we will continue to litigate and advocate against source-of-income discrimination in the next year.
We are filing complaints on behalf of individual renters as well as a fair housing organization that conducts testing to identify landlords that are discriminating. At the beginning of this year, we successfully settled a federal court lawsuit brought by our client Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania against a large landlord under the Fair Housing Act for racial discrimination and source-of-income discrimination, resulting in the landlord agreeing to encourage and accept voucher applicants in all its properties.
This summer, the Law Center filed a housing discrimination complaint against one of Philadelphia’s largest property management companies, which manages over 3,000 units. The company told our client, Ms. Cooper, a Philadelphian with disabilities, that she could not apply to any of the affordable units she toured because they would not accept her voucher. This discrimination comes after Ms. Cooper spent nearly 13 years on a waiting list for the subsidy, only to be turned away by landlords that are breaking the law.
Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Our client Mr. Smith, a renter with autism who uses a voucher, testified about his experience searching for a place to live at a Philadelphia City Council hearing that the Law Center helped organize. “Being told ‘no’ again and again was devastating for me and my family,” he said. “It felt like landlords assumed I was a lazy, no-good person just because I had a housing voucher.” After more than six months of searching, with help from the Law Center, Mr. Smith now has a place to live that accepts his voucher.
“It felt like landlords assumed I was a lazy, no-good person just because I had a housing voucher.” After more than six months of searching, with help from the Law Center, Mr. Smith now has a place to live that accepts his voucher.
The Law Center focuses not only on ensuring that low-income Philadelphians have access to affordable housing, but also on ensuring this housing is habitable. In the coming months, we will also use litigation, organizing, and advocacy to address substandard housing conditions such as leaks, pest infestations, sewage, and broken elevators.
Your support for the Law Center allows us to continue this fight. Will you donate this holiday season to increase access to affordable and safe housing for all Philadelphians?
Legal Director and Interim