The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
July 22, 2013

Landlord discrimination restricts the use of rental vouchers

July 22, 2013

Our latest report on housing discrimination found that some of the most blatant acts of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities have declined over the last decade. However, minority renters and homeowners are still shown and told about fewer properties than similarly qualified whites. These forms of discrimination raise the costs of housing searches for minorities and restrict their choices.

Low-income minority renters face another form of discrimination when using Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) to help pay for housing. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) is the nation’s largest federal housing assistance program, providing more than 2.1 million low-income households with vouchers to subsidize their rent in the private market.  The Federal Fair Housing Act does not prohibit discrimination against renters based on vouchers or other sources of income (SOI).   Although ostensibly HCV facilitates mobility to better neighborhoods, because HCV program participants are not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are free to reject their applications because of their voucher. This has the potential to limit housing choice.

 

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While there is no national data on discrimination against voucher holders, local studies in New York City, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C  have found that many landlords treat voucher-holders in a discriminatory manner, either imposing additional conditions upon voucher applicants or simply rejecting their applications. This discrimination makes it harder for low-income families to use vouchers to move to better neighborhoods.

Even more troubling, some landlords use rejection of HCVs as a proxy to discriminate against racial or ethnic minorities. Nationally, 41 percent of voucher holders are black and 16 percent are Hispanic. In major urban centers like Atlanta, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., 90 percent or more of HCV holders are minorities. Local discrimination studies have found a subset of landlords that reject vouchers when offered by black or Hispanic families, but accept them from white families.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia, along with 31 cities, have enacted statutes that prohibit SOI discrimination in the housing market, though only some of these laws specifically mention vouchers. Regardless, these statutes appear to have a positive impact on voucher success rates and neighborhood choice.

However, in many areas, discrimination against voucher holders continues to undermine the goals of the HCVP and provide a pretext for outright discrimination against minorities.

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.

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