San Diego

City Council Passes Ordinance Preventing Housing Discrimination

Currently, it is legal for landlords to refuse to rent to individuals as a business practice

The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would prevent landlords from turning away tenants who receive rental assistance, like Section 8, to pay rent.

The Source of Income Discrimination Ordinance aims to protect renters from discrimination solely because they use government assistance, according to supporters of the ordinance.

Before the vote, it was legal for landlords to refuse to rent to individuals who receive Section 8 vouchers as a business practice.

The item passed 6-1 with Councilman Mark Kersey opposed. Councilmembers Chris Cate and Scott Sherman were not present for the vote.

More than 85 percent of the nearly 36,500 San Diegans using federal housing vouchers are minorities, according to the San Diego Housing Commission. That amounts to a de facto “way of continuing to segregate our community,” Councilman David Alvarez said.

One 17-year-old public speaker shared a personal story about his family’s search for housing.

“We heard the same thing over and over: ‘We don’t take Section 8. We don’t take Section 8. We don’t take Section 8,’” Ahmad Mahmuod told the City Council. “It got to the point where we don’t even feel like we’re being treated like humans anymore. We’re treated like animals. People who have Section 8 vouchers aren’t bad people.”

Councilmember Georgette Gomez of District 9, which includes the neighborhoods of City Heights, Southcrest and Mountain View, spearheaded the effort.

“I want to thank the audience for staying, more importantly for sharing your stories. I know sometimes being vulnerable and sharing your experience related to this issue is not always easy,” Gomez said.

Critics say the proposal is unfair to landlords, forcing them to deal with federal red tape, paperwork and inspections and would make it more difficult to secure rent increases.

Kersey said he could not support the measure because of a potential funding delay and “lost rent” for smaller landlords while they wait up to 3 weeks for the Housing Commission to conduct an inspection, which is a requirement under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“There is no way we could issue federal money to a landlord without an inspection,” said Richard Gentry, the president and CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission. “We have to qualify the housing unit, so we don’t subsidize someone living in a less than adequate unit.”

The Housing Commission will report back to the Smart Growth and Land Use committee in May 2019 with an update on how the program is working.

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