Opportunity Gap: A Survey of State Source-of-Income Protection Laws and How They Address the Challenges Facing the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program
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In 1968, the United States Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) with the stated purpose of “prevent[ing] segregation and discrimination in housing, including in the sale or rental of housing . . . .” The FHA prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to members of certain protected classes, including race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status.2 Notably absent from this list is what is commonly referred to as “source-of-income” (“SOI”) protection, which extends antidiscrimination statutes to recipients of federal public assistance.
The federal government’s primary housing public assistance program is the Housing Choice Voucher (“HCV”) Program (formerly known as Section 8). First established under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, the HCV Program allows voucher holders to use federal assistance to access the private housing market. The HCV Program aims “to increase access to safe, affordable housing units and to provide opportunities for low- income families to obtain rental housing outside areas of poverty or minority concentration.” Unfortunately, the goals of this pro- gram have been severely undermined by the refusal of many land- lords to accept tenants who will pay their rent through a voucher.
In response to this phenomenon, fifteen state legislatures have enacted some form of SOI-protection statute. The purpose of these statutes is to prevent landlords from refusing a tenant simply because they plan to pay their rent with the aid of federal public assistance. While each state’s statutory protections share a common purpose, they are not all structured in exactly the same manner. This Comment fills a gap in the current scholarship by highlighting the nuances of SOI protection across the states and analyzing which protections best align with the goals of the HCV Program and can best combat the current challenges the program faces. The Comment concludes by arguing that SOI protections accompanied by landlord incentives to participate in the HCV Program align best with the goals of the program and most specifically address the challenges the program currently faces.
Jamie H. Wood*
* J.D. Candidate, 2021, University of Richmond School of Law; B.A., 2014, University of Texas at Austin. I would like to thank Professors Carl W. Tobias, Rachel J. Suddarth, and Tara L. Casey for their guidance and the valuable conversations that led me to explore this topic in the first place. I am immensely grateful to Professor Luke P. Norris for providing instructive feedback and encouragement that allowed me to carry on writing this Comment in the middle of a pandemic. I also appreciate my fellow members of the University of Richmond Law Review for their hard work and careful editing. Any remaining errors are mine. Finally, to Alex Wood: thank you for supporting and believing in me every step of the way.