State and Local Voucher Protection Laws: Introducing a New Legal Dataset

Brief

State and Local Voucher Protection Laws: Introducing a New Legal Dataset

Abstract

The federal Housing Choice Voucher program is the nation’s largest rental housing assistance program, helping more than 2 million households afford their housing every year. Renters with vouchers often face discrimination from landlords, which can severely limit their housing options. Recognizing the prevalence and harms of discrimination against voucher holders, some state and local governments have adopted laws that prohibit landlords from denying rental applicants based on their use of a voucher.

In this brief, we introduce a new dataset of state and local laws that prohibit discrimination by landlords against renters with vouchers. The dataset includes 12 state laws and 87 city and county laws passed between 1971 and the end of 2019. In the dataset, we identify the key features of laws that may influence their effectiveness; in this brief, we provide a framework for assessing the relative strength of the laws.

We find that the share of voucher holders covered by voucher protection laws is growing and that in 2019, these laws collectively covered about half of all voucher holders nationally. Compared with households in places without protections for voucher holders, households that have vouchers in jurisdictions with protections are more likely to be headed by an older adult, to be headed by a Hispanic/Latino person, and to include someone with a disability. They are also less likely to include children or be headed by a Black person. We also find that voucher holder protection laws are diverse and have strengthened over time. These findings suggest that researchers interested in assessing voucher holder protection laws should consider how they vary across jurisdictions.

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